The Credential Differential: The Public Return to Increasing Postsecondary Credential Attainment

As other countries have increased their postsecondary attainment rates, the United States has fallen to 15th place among 34 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries in the percentage of 25 to 34-year olds with an Associate’s level college degree or higher. Now, more than half of young adults in leading OECD countries—Canada, South Korea, and Japan—have college degrees compared to 41 percent in the United States, and these leading countries are on track to increase their college degree attainments rates to 60 percent by 2020. The United States must match this rate to maintain its global competitiveness and have a chance at leading the developed world in percent of skilled, educated workers.

At current rates of credential attainment, the United States will fall short by tens of millions of postsecondary credentials over the next couple of decades. This hard reality comes at a time when many federal policymakers are struggling to prioritize investments in postsecondary education and workforce development. For example, growing demand for Pell Grants is a good sign that more low-income students are accessing postsecondary education and, thereby, helping to meet national demand for postsecondary credentials. But many federal policymakers are aiming to cut the size of the program and cut grant amounts awarded to students. Funding for employment and training services as well as adult and technical education is also less, declining 15 percent in fiscal year 2012 compared to fiscal year 2008 (adjusted for inflation).

To learn more, read this report by Vickie Choitz.