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Record Shares of Young Adults Completing College

In a tough economy, the message that education pays off is getting through to young people.

Record shares of young adults are completing high school, going to college, and completing degrees, newly analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals.

Of the nation's adults ages 25 to 29, a report from the Pew Research Center released Monday shows 90 percent have finished at least a high school education, 63 percent have completed at least some college (including those finishing a bachelor's or associate degree as well as those completing college credits but not a degree), and 33 percent hold at least a bachelor's degree.

In 1971, only 12 percent of adults 25 and older had completed at least a four-year college degree, 22 percent had finished some college, and 57 percent of adults completed at least high school.

The report by Richard Fry and Kim Parker notes that the new levels of education come at a time when the racial and ethnic make-up of the U.S. population is diversifying, a trend that some experts predicted might hurt educational attainment progress. There are record levels of college completion among all groups: men and women; blacks, whites and Hispanics; and foreign-born and native-born Americans.

"These trends in educational attainment reflect the growing importance the American public places on a college education," the Pew report says. About 73 percent of Americans in a 2009 Pew Research Center survey agreed with the statement: "In order to get ahead in life these days, it's necessary to get a college education." When CBS News and The New York Times asked the same question in 1978, only 49 percent of adults agreed, the report notes.

The Pew researchers credit the recent educational increases, in part, to the sluggish job market that prompted more students to pursue higher education. Also, more young Americans are recognizing the importance of going to college to succeed in an increasingly knowledge-based labor market.

Estimates of educational attainment in the Pew report are based on the Current Population Survey (CPS) from March 1971 to March 2012.

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