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Front Page » July 6, 2006 » Local News » Educational attainment levels drop in Utah
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Educational attainment levels drop in Utah

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Utah has traditionally exceeded the nation in college graduates as a percent of the population.

The state's well-educated population and workforce have been a strength to Utah in economic competitiveness.

However, recent statistics indicate the state's ranking in educational attainment slipping, especially for younger residents, noted the latest brief released by Utah Foundation.

Evaluating 60 years of data on educational attainment from the United States Census Bureau, the independent public policy organization's research brief documents a number of significant challenges facing Utah.

The challenges include the fact that younger Utahns have dropped below the national average for education levels, young females have not kept up with a national surge in U.S. women completing college degrees and the proportion of young adults enrolled in higher education has fallen.

The trends could harm Utah's economic competitiveness, especially for the high paying jobs that public officials are trying to attract to the state.

The U.S. Census Bureau has been collecting information on educational attainment of the American population since 1940.

Statistics reported by the federal agency include the percent of the adult population 25 years and older graduating from high school and the percent earning a bachelor's or higher degree.

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau published a national report on educational attainment in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia from 1940 to 2000.

The data collected by the bureau allow researchers to examine state and national historical trends in educational attainment, noted the foundation.

Since 1940, Utah has consistently surpassed the national average in the percent of adults with at least a bachelor's degree.However, Utah has slipped in the national rankings, particularly in the last two decades.

In 1940, Utah ranked fifth highest in the nation for the percent of adults with a bachelor's degree or higher.

By 2000, Utah had fallen to 16th place in the national educational attainment rankings. Males in Utah slipped from third in 1940 to ninth place in 2000. But female Utahns fell from ninth to 25th place.

The decline in the rankings is not because fewer Utahns have college degrees, pointed out the independent research organization. On the contrary, the percent of Utah and U.S. adults with bachelor degrees or higher have steadily increased in the last six decades.

Nationally, the percent of college graduates increased from 4.6 percent in 1940 to 24.4 percent in 2000.

The percent of college graduates in Utah rose from 6.2 percent in 1940 to 26.1 percent in 2000.

The state has slipped in the national ranking because the percentage of college graduates in Utah is increasing at a slower pace than nationally. Within Utah, men and women are experiencing rising levels of educational attainment.

In 1940, 7.5 percent of Utah men had at least a bachelor's degree. By 2000, 30 percent were college graduates.

The percent of Utah women with a bachelor's degree or higher increased from 4.7 percent in 1940 to 22.3 percent in 2000. Utah women, however, have not kept pace with national trends.

From 1940 to 1980, Utah women had higher than average educational attainment. But in 1990 and 2000, female Utahns fell below the national average. In contrast, Utah men continue to earn bachelor's degrees or higher at a rate higher than the national average.

On a positive note, older Utahns age 45 to 64 years and 65 years or older are better educated than Americans overall, pointed out the foundation researchers.

For adults ages 35 to 44, about the same percent of Utahns and Americans attain at least a bachelor's degree. But for the youngest bracket of adults ages 25 to 34, state residents fall below the national average with 25.4 percent of Utahns vs. 27.5 percent of Americans.

The lower level of educational attainment for Utah's younger adults is particularly concerning, indicated the independent organization's research brief.

Political leaders and economic development officials have frequently touted Utah's well-educated workforce as one of the state's economic strengths. Falling behind the national average in educational attainment could harm the state's economic competitiveness, added the independent organization.

The foundation researchers determined that all Utahns in the two older age brackets are better educated than national counterparts. But 35- to 44-year-old Utah women drop behind U.S. females by a significant margin.

Within the youngest bracket, Utah women are increasing education levels and are nearly even with Utah men. But female Utahns are more than 4 percentage points below the U.S. average.

Nationally, young women have been increasing education levels faster than young men. Utah women are following the trend, but at a slower rate.

College enrollment for 18- to 24-year-olds declined at the state and national levels from 1990 to 2000.

In Utah, higher education enrollment for college age persons fell from 40.2 percent in 1990 to 36.6 percent in 2000.

Male and female Utahns exceeded the nation in college participation in 1990 and 2000. Nationally, there was a trend of declining college enrollment, but American women increased participation from 36 percent in 1990 to 37.5 percent in 2000.

In contrast, Utah declined in participation, yet exceeded the national average in 2000.

While Utah women ages 18 to 24 attended college at higher than average rates in 1990 and 2000, females ages 25 to 34 had earned degrees at a lower rate than the national average in 2000.

Utah women are more likely to enroll in college than females nationally, but are less likely to complete degrees, concluded the foundation research brief.

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