Trends in U.S. Educational Attainment Using PIAAC Data

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is a multi-country survey of adults, developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), that measures skill proficiency in the domains of numeracy, literacy, and technology-based problem-solving. In addition to direct skills assessment, PIAAC also collects rich demographic, health, and employment data through an individual background questionnaire.

Drawing from a small subset of education and demographic variables, the following indicators show trends in U.S. educational attainment across age cohorts, and within the millennial age cohort, by first-generation and underrepresented minority statuses. Attainment level reflects an individual's highest self-reported education qualification. For these analyses, educational attainment levels are presented with U.S. terminology, translated from the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) coding system in which PIAAC attainment data are reported. While PIAAC data allow for international comparisons, the indicators below reflect U.S. trends only.

Educational Attainment of U.S. Population by Age Cohort

The figure below shows trends in U.S. educational attainment across age cohorts in ten-year bands. The youngest cohort presented (ages 25 to 34) represents millennials, a purposively oversampled population of the PIAAC survey.

Across the four age cohorts, the most sizable differences in educational attainment appear at the high school and bachelor’s degree levels. Across successive cohorts of U.S. adults, smaller shares of younger adults hold a high school credential as their highest education qualification, while an increasingly greater share hold a bachelor’s degree. Slightly greater shares of millennials (11%) also hold an associate’s degree compared to older age cohorts (8% to 10%). These analyses mirror national trends in increased college-going and degree attainment among younger U.S. residents.

While career and technical education is a current policy priority at the federal and state levels, PIAAC data reveal that comparable shares of U.S. adults spanning four decades hold vocational certificates. These data, however, reflect the years 2012 and 2014, and it is unclear if greater shares of young adults have completed postsecondary certificates in the past few years.

Older age cohorts outperform millennials in one regard: the share who hold advanced degrees, though this is likely a function of time. As millennials age and mature in their careers, they may continue to display a college-going disposition and attain a graduate or professional degree after the category’s age cap of 34.

     Data Source:  PIAAC U.S. Household Survey 2012/14 public-use data file.  Notes:    Author's calculations using the   repest   package for Stata. Error bar represents one standard error above and below estimated value. Asterisk indicates statistically significant difference in estimated value between youngest (25-34) and oldest (55-65) age cohorts within the same attainment level.

 

Data Source: PIAAC U.S. Household Survey 2012/14 public-use data file. Notes: Author's calculations using the repest package for Stata. Error bar represents one standard error above and below estimated value. Asterisk indicates statistically significant difference in estimated value between youngest (25-34) and oldest (55-65) age cohorts within the same attainment level.

Educational Attainment of U.S. Millennials by First-Generation Status

Within the U.S. millennial population (ages 25 to 34), the PIAAC data reveal sizeable gaps in educational attainment between first-generation (FG) and continuing-generation (CG) students. First-generation status is operationalized as neither parent holding a postsecondary credential.

The majority of FG millennials do not hold a postsecondary credential, as 57% count a high school credential or less as their highest education qualification. By comparison, fewer than one-third (30%) of CG millennials fall into these same lower attainment categories. At the other end of the spectrum, CG millennials far outpace their FG counterparts in the share who hold a bachelor’s degree (32% vs. 15%) or advanced degree (17% vs. 4%). At the sub-baccalaureate level, however, comparable shares of FG and CG millennials hold vocational certificates and associate’s degrees (10% to 12% range). These findings reinforce the widely known disparities in educational attainment that first-generation students face, as parents’ education level strongly correlates with their children’s own attainment.

  Data Source:  PIAAC U.S. Household Survey 2012/14 public-use data file.  Notes:    Author's calculations using the   repest   package for Stata. Error bar represents one standard error above and below estimated value. Asterisk indicates statistically significant difference in estimated value between first-generation and continuing-generation cohorts within the same attainment level.

Data Source: PIAAC U.S. Household Survey 2012/14 public-use data file. Notes: Author's calculations using the repest package for Stata. Error bar represents one standard error above and below estimated value. Asterisk indicates statistically significant difference in estimated value between first-generation and continuing-generation cohorts within the same attainment level.

Educational Attainment of U.S. Millennials by Underrepresented Minority Status

PIAAC data also reveal that millennial-age “underrepresented minorities” (operationalized as individuals who self-identify as Black or Hispanic/Latino on the survey instrument) demonstrate lower levels of educational attainment compared to millennials who self-identify as White or Asian/Pacific Islander. Nearly two out of three Black and Hispanic millennials do not hold a postsecondary credential, with 63% holding a high school credential or less as their highest education qualification. By contrast, a significantly smaller share (37%) of White and Asian millennials fall into these lower attainment categories. As a group, White and Asian millennials far outpace their Black and Hispanic peers in the share who hold a bachelor’s degrees (27% vs. 13%) or advanced degree (13% vs. 5%). These data reveal deep disparities in educational attainment across racial/ethnic lines, even among the youngest U.S. adult age cohort.

  Data Source:  PIAAC U.S. Household Survey 2012/14 public-use data file.  Notes:    Author's calculations using the   repest   package for Stata. Error bar represents one standard error above and below estimated value. Asterisk indicates statistically significant difference in estimated value between Black/Hispanic and White/Asian subgroups within the same attainment level.

Data Source: PIAAC U.S. Household Survey 2012/14 public-use data file. Notes: Author's calculations using the repest package for Stata. Error bar represents one standard error above and below estimated value. Asterisk indicates statistically significant difference in estimated value between Black/Hispanic and White/Asian subgroups within the same attainment level.

Though the above figure shows stark differences across combined racial/ethnic groups, there are likely within-group differences not captured by the relatively crude group classifications presented. While PIAAC remains a valuable data source, the international-focused survey can be limited in sample size, as there are only 2,100 millennials in the U.S. sample from which to disaggregate race/ethnicity and fine-grained educational attainment categories. Due to the relatively small cell size after data disaggregation, I elected to conceptualize and present the “underrepresented minority” group compared to peers who, on average, demonstrate higher levels of educational attainment.


2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings

Rick Hess of AEI  recently released his annual list of the 200 most influential education scholars in the U.S. Concurrent with the unveiling of the 2018 list, institutions including Penn and UCLA, among others, issued press releases celebrating the public scholarship and public recognition of their faculty. So who are these 200 university-based scholars at the forefront of education policy and practice? The following seven figures provide a descriptive snapshot of the illustrious body of academics who currently hold a spot on this coveted list.

Gender

Two-thirds of the ranked scholars on the 2018 list are men (133) and one-third (67) are women. Despite the overall 2:1 ratio of men to women, eight of the top 10 spots went to women (with Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford topping the list).

 Data Sources:  2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings ; Individual faculty websites.

Data Sources: 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings; Individual faculty websites.

Highest Academic Rank

Nearly 80 percent of the 2018 edu-scholars have achieved the academic rank of full professor. Considerably smaller shares of associate professors (12 percent) and assistant professors (4 percent) made the list. Martin West of Harvard is the highest-ranked associate professor (No. 52), and Robert Kelchen of Seton Hall is the highest-ranked assistant professor (No. 54). Not all scholars are tenured or tenure-track faculty; the remaining 6 percent are university-based researchers or directors of research centers.

 Data Sources:  2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings ; Individual faculty websites and curricula vitae.

Data Sources: 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings; Individual faculty websites and curricula vitae.

Current Affiliation Institution Type

Approximately one-third (72) of 2018 ranked scholars are currently affiliated with just eight institutions in the "Ivy+" category, which includes Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, U. Penn, and Yale. Harvard and Stanford lead the pack with the most number of ranked scholars (24 and 20, respectively). Overall, nearly 3 out of 5 scholars are affiliated with private institutions. The remaining 40 percent represent public institutions, though more than 75 percent of those at public institutions are affiliated with just 17 public flagship universities. Among flagships, UCLA boasts the most number of ranked scholars (13) followed by Berkeley (10). Fewer than 10 percent of ranked scholars are affiliated with non-flagship public universities. Sarah Goldrick-Rab of Temple University is the highest-ranked scholar among this group (No. 7).

 Data Sources:  2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings ; Individual faculty websites and curricula vitae.

Data Sources: 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings; Individual faculty websites and curricula vitae.

Highest Degree

Nearly all ranked scholars hold either a PhD (85.5 percent) or an EdD (10.5 percent). Thirteen of the 21 EdD holders received their degree from Harvard. Six individuals to make the 2018 list hold professional degrees as their highest degree (4 law, 2 medicine). One individual holds the Master of Public Administration degree, and one holds a B.A. from Harvard College.

 Data Sources:  2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings ; Individual faculty websites and curricula vitae.

Data Sources: 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings; Individual faculty websites and curricula vitae.

Field of Highest Degree

The 200 ranked scholars represent a wide array of disciplinary training. More than one-quarter (28 percent) received their highest degree in the field of education. This broad categorization includes subfields such as curriculum and instruction, educational administration, and higher education. Nearly 20 percent of scholars received PhDs in economics or the economics of education. A similar share (17 percent) received doctorates in psychology or educational psychology. Approximately 10 percent received doctorates in sociology or sociology of education. Approximately 8 percent have their highest degree in the fields of government/political science (17) and public policy/education policy (15). Only two ranked scholars (1 percent) hold PhDs in anthropology and history, respectively.

 Data Sources:  2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings ; Individual faculty websites and curricula vitae.   Note: Degree field information was retrieved from individual faculty members curricula vitae. Listed degree program on CV may not accurately reflect an individual's academic coursework or disciplinary perspective post-graduation. Only field of highest degree earned (typically doctorate) was considered. For five individuals, degree field was not listed on CV and an Internet search was not able to recover this information.

Data Sources: 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings; Individual faculty websites and curricula vitae. 

Note: Degree field information was retrieved from individual faculty members curricula vitae. Listed degree program on CV may not accurately reflect an individual's academic coursework or disciplinary perspective post-graduation. Only field of highest degree earned (typically doctorate) was considered. For five individuals, degree field was not listed on CV and an Internet search was not able to recover this information.

Highest Degree from Institution Type

Where did the ranked scholars receive their academic training? More than half (107) of all 2018 edu-scholars received their highest degree from just 13 Ivy League or elite private institutions. Thirty-four individuals received their highest degree from Harvard, and 18 from Stanford. One-third of ranked scholars received their highest degree from public flagship universities (with UW-Madison leading flagships with 9). Only 10 percent of scholars received their highest degree from non-flagship public universities. Seven individuals received PhDs from international universities.

 Data Sources:  2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings ; Individual faculty websites and curricula vitae.

Data Sources: 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings; Individual faculty websites and curricula vitae.

2017 to 2018 Rank Change

How did scholars' 2018 rankings compare to 2017? Approximately 40 percent of 2018 scholars remained in the same position or moved up the rankings from 2017. One-third remained within plus/minus 10 spots from their 2017 position. The scholar who realized the greatest positive rank change was Daniel Koretz of Harvard, moving from No. 152 in 2017 to No. 20 in 2018. The 2018 list saw 13 individuals who did not appear on the 2017 list, with Raj Chetty of Stanford ranking the highest (No. 14) among this group.

 Data Sources:  2017 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings;   2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings.

Data Sources: 2017 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings; 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings.


Pell Grant Recipients in the Ivy League

How many low-income students attend Ivy League colleges? The figure below shows the total number of undergraduates and Federal Pell Grant recipients (a common proxy for 'low-income' status) enrolled in Ivy League colleges and universities in academic year 2015-16. Undergraduate enrollments vary widely across institutions, ranging from 4,307 at Dartmouth to 14,315 at Cornell. Similarly, the number of Pell Grant recipients enrolled at each Ivy League institution varies, from 613 at Dartmouth to more than 2,000 at Cornell. In total, fewer than 10,000 Pell Grant recipients attended Ivy League colleges and universities in 2015-16.

Total Undergraduate and Pell Grant Recipient Enrollments at Ivy League Colleges and Universities: 2015-16

 Data retrieved from the IPEDS Data Center.

Data retrieved from the IPEDS Data Center.

The figure below translates the above enrollment counts into the share of Pell Grant recipients at each Ivy League institution. Harvard has the smallest share of Pell Grant recipients represented in its undergraduate student body (11 percent), while Columbia has the largest share (22 percent). For most Ivy League institutions, 14-15 percent of the undergraduate class is comprised of Pell Grant recipients.

Share of Undergraduates who Receive Federal Pell Grant at Ivy League Colleges and Universities: 2015-16

 Data retrieved from the IPEDS Data Center.

Data retrieved from the IPEDS Data Center.

What are the graduation outcomes for Pell Grant recipients enrolled in Ivy League colleges? The figure below shows the 6-year bachelor's degree completion rates for Federal Pell Grant recipients who began as first-time, full-time bachelor's degree-seeking students in fall 2010. Based on this cross section of available data, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) exhibits the lowest Pell graduation rate (91 percent), while Yale exhibits the highest (98 percent).

6-Year Pell Graduation Rates at Ivy League Colleges and Universities: Fall 2010 Cohort

 Author's calculations. Data retrieved from the IPEDS Data Center. *Preliminary data reported in IPEDS show zero FTFT Pell Grant recipients enrolled at Columbia in fall 2010, therefore no graduation rate could be calculated.

Author's calculations. Data retrieved from the IPEDS Data Center. *Preliminary data reported in IPEDS show zero FTFT Pell Grant recipients enrolled at Columbia in fall 2010, therefore no graduation rate could be calculated.


College Out-Migration by State of Residence

Of those who leave their home state for college, where do they go? The diagram below displays the origin and destination (by state) of U.S. first-time undergraduates in fall 2014. Over 500,000 undergraduates enrolled in an out-of-state college in that year. The states with the largest number of students leaving include California (42,152 students or 8 percent of all leavers), New Jersey (35,542 students), and Illinois (33,973 students). Students who out-migrate typically travel to a nearby state. For example, among those who left New Jersey to attend college, 28 percent enrolled in a Pennsylvania college and 19 percent enrolled in a New York college.

U.S. Resident College Out-Migration by State: Fall 2014

 Author's calculations. Data retrieved from the IPEDS Data Center. The diagram displays college out-migration counts for first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates in fall 2014. In-state enrollment counts are not presented. The data reflect U.S. residents and U.S. postsecondary institutions (i.e., 50 states and DC).

Author's calculations. Data retrieved from the IPEDS Data Center. The diagram displays college out-migration counts for first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates in fall 2014. In-state enrollment counts are not presented. The data reflect U.S. residents and U.S. postsecondary institutions (i.e., 50 states and DC).


Economic Diversity, Pell Graduation Rates, and Admissions Selectivity

What is the relationship between an institution's economic diversity and graduation outcomes for low-income students? How does this relationship vary by institutional selectivity? The graph below displays the relationship between an institution's economic diversity (measured as the percentage of undergraduate students who receive a Federal Pell Grant) and six-year bachelor's degree completion rates for Pell Grant recipients. Generally, as the share of low-income students increases, the six-year bachelor's degree completion rate decreases (as evidenced by the downward slope). Overlaid in color is the institutional selectivity (measured by Barron's Admissions Competitiveness Index). The vertical position of the colored dots and lines, particularly within the higher selectivity categories, shows the economic stratification at U.S. four-year colleges. The most selective institutions typically serve fewer low-income students relative to their undergraduate enrollments, but those who are able to gain admission exhibit exceptionally high completion rates.

First-time, Full-time 6-year Pell Graduation Rates at 4-year Institutions by Percent Undergrad Pell and Barron's Admissions Competitiveness Index: Fall 2010 Cohort

 Author's calculations. Data retrieved from the IPEDS Data Center and Barron's  Profiles of American Colleges 2016.  Completion rates reflect the share of Federal Pell Grant recipients who began in fall 2010 and completed a bachelor's degree at the same institution by summer 2016. Institutions represented include Title IV U.S. four-year public and private, not-for-profit institutions that are ranked by Barron's. Associate institutions that grant bachelor's degrees and special focus institutions are not included.

Author's calculations. Data retrieved from the IPEDS Data Center and Barron's Profiles of American Colleges 2016. Completion rates reflect the share of Federal Pell Grant recipients who began in fall 2010 and completed a bachelor's degree at the same institution by summer 2016. Institutions represented include Title IV U.S. four-year public and private, not-for-profit institutions that are ranked by Barron's. Associate institutions that grant bachelor's degrees and special focus institutions are not included.


Undergraduate College Enrollment by Sector

In which types of postsecondary institutions are students enrolled? In fall 2015, more than 17 million undergraduates enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. The vast majority (76 percent) attend public institutions, with enrollments nearly evenly divided between four-year and two-year colleges. Relatively few undergraduates (8 percent) attend for-profit institutions. Of those who attend for-profits, the majority attend four-year institutions. Overall, approximately 60 percent of undergraduates enroll in four-year colleges, and nearly 40 percent attended 2-year colleges. Very few (less than 2 percent) attend less-than-two-year postsecondary institutions.

Total U.S. Undergraduate Enrollment by Institutional Sector: Fall 2015

 Author's calculations. Enrollment counts reflect all Title IV U.S. postsecondary institutions in academic year 2015-16. Data retrieved from IPEDS Data Center. 

Author's calculations. Enrollment counts reflect all Title IV U.S. postsecondary institutions in academic year 2015-16. Data retrieved from IPEDS Data Center. 


College Choice Considerations

What factors do high school graduates consider when choosing the college in which they enroll? The graph below displays 12 college choice considerations and the level of importance a nationally-representative sample of high school graduates assigned to each when they made their college choice in 2013. The vast majority of college enrollees reported that academic quality or institutional reputation was very important in selecting their choice institution. Academic program offerings and cost of attendance were also important considerations. Conversely, for most high school graduates who immediately enrolled in college in fall 2013, the opportunity to play sports and online course offerings were not important considerations in making their college choice.

Importance of College Consideration on Choice Institution: 2013

 Author's calculations. HSLS:09/13 public-use data file. Retrieved from  https://nces.ed.gov/edat/

Author's calculations. HSLS:09/13 public-use data file. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/edat/


Geographic Variation in College Attainment

Where do college-educated U.S. residents live? The map below displays aggregate college attainment levels for working-age adults by U.S. county. College attainment levels vary by geography, with many counties in the Mid-Atlantic region exhibiting high levels of attainment, whereas many counties in the Southeast exhibit low levels. Even within states with historically low levels of college attainment, there remain pockets with large shares of college-educated adults (typically near state capitals and other large cities).

Percentage of Adults Age 25 to 64 With an Associate Degree or Higher by U.S. County: 2015

 Author's calculations. American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates. Data retrieved from  Social Explorer .

Author's calculations. American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates. Data retrieved from Social Explorer.


Federal Pell Grant Spending by U.S. Congressional District

Where do Federal Pell Grant dollars go? The map below displays the total amount of Federal Pell Grant dollars (on a per undergraduate student basis) allocated to postsecondary institutions within each U.S. congressional district. Districts with high Pell spending per undergraduate student appear to be clustered in the Southeastern United States (e.g., Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia). Some geographically small but densely populated districts (e.g., those located near Los Angeles and New York) also exhibit high Pell spending per student.

Federal Pell Grant Spending per Undergraduate by U.S. Congressional District: 2014

 Author's calculations. Data retrieved from IPEDS Data Center.

Author's calculations. Data retrieved from IPEDS Data Center.

Top 5 U.S. Congressional Districts for Pell Spending per Undergraduate: 113th Congress

 Author's calculations. Data retrieved from IPEDS Data Center.

Author's calculations. Data retrieved from IPEDS Data Center.