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Record shares of young Americans complete high school and college

For the first time ever, a third of the 25-to 29-year-olds in the United States (US) have completed at least a bachelor’s degree and 90% in the same age group have finished at least a high school education, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available census data in 2012. These records come a bit as a surprise given the dramatic immigration-driven changes in the racial and ethnic composition of college-age young adults that were once expected to cause a decline in educational attainment.

The study attributed the all-time high numbers to the sluggish job market in the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009, a change in the public attitudes about the importance of going to college in order to succeed in an increasingly knowledge-based labour market, and the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the nation’s college-age population.

The US is not the only country that sees upward trends in college attainment, however. Similar developments or even faster growth have been observed in other advanced economies. A survey of more than 1 000 college presidents in the US conducted by the same research centre in 2012 shows a pessimistic outlook as only 19% of the surveyed presidents said that the US higher education system is currently the best in the world and a mere 7% believed that it will be the best in the world 10 years from now. They are concerned about the quality, preparedness and study habits of college students today.

Pew Research Center