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College-Attainment Rates Show D.C., Mass., N.D. Leading

In advance of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's speech to a National Governors Association meeting on July 13, the U.S. Department of Education has released the college graduation rates among 25-34 year old residents in each state, based on U.S. Census data from 2009 and 2010, along with very rough predictions as to the number of graduates in each state in 2020. My colleague Nora Fleming did a nice report on the numbers from a national perspective, but let's look a bit more at state-specific data.

The top performer is the District of Columbia, with 68.8 percent of the relevant age demographic, or 82,000 people, receiving some kind of postsecondary degree as of 2010. But hold on, because the (perhaps infamous) stereotype of D.C. is that a very small share of its population was actually born and grew up there. Other recent U.S. Census data shows that this reputation is in fact largely deserved, since only Florida and Nevada have a lower percentage of "native-born" residents. The subsequent and obvious argument is that you'd like your college graduation rate, assuming that it's high, to largely be a product of your own excellent K-12 public schools, not another state's. D.C. had 47.4 percent of its population born in another state, and another 13.5 percent born in another country.

The next-highest college-attainment rate is in Massachusetts, with 54.3 percent of its younger residents in that category. Then comes North Dakota, with 50.8 percent, followed by Minnesota (49.8 percent) and New York (49.6 percent). In case you're wondering, the share of Massachusetts residents in 2010 who were born in the state was 63.1 percent. In North Dakota the percentage was 68.6, in Minnesota it was 68.8, and in New York it was 63.6.

Nevada had the lowest share of 25-34 year olds with college degrees in 2010 (28.4 percent), followed by Arkansas (28.6 percent), and New Mexico (28.7 percent).

Nationwide, the college-attainment rate in the relevant demographic moved up slightly between 2009 and 2010, from 38.8 percent to 39.3 percent, representing an increase of about 99,000 people. In all, 21 states and the District of Columbia had college completion rates beating the national average. By 2020, the department estimates that based on census data between 26.2 and 27 million 25-34 year olds, 58 to 60 percent of the demographic, will have obtained a post-secondary degree.

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