More adults hold degrees

33 percent of people 25 to 29 have earned bachelor’s diploma

They may live with their parents and they may owe thousands of dollars in student loans, but a larger share of young adults can boast a bachelor’s degree than ever before.

A record 33 percent of the nation’s 25- to 29-year-olds have earned at least a four-year degree, up from 28 percent in 2001 and 2006 and 17 percent in 1971, says the report released Monday by the nonprofit Pew Research Center. It’s based on recently released U.S. Census data.

While President Barack Obama has made college completion a hallmark of his higher-education agenda, the report’s authors attribute much of the increase to the struggling economy and decline in job opportunities in recent years. They also note that other countries have made similar or greater gains in college-completion rates.

Even so, the report calls the gains a positive sign for the U.S. workforce and economy.

“The Great Recession and its aftermath had many ill effects, but this is probably the silver lining,” co-author Richard Fry says. “Going forward, the nation’s young adults (face) an array of difficulties, but (education is) one thing they have going for them.”

College completion rates for young adults ages 25 to 29 increased across key demographic groups:

Gender: A larger share of women (37 percent) completed college than men (30 percent), but men surpassed a 1976 peak of 28 percent.

Race and ethnicity: Among whites, 40 percent had completed at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, up from 39 percent in 2011. Attainment among blacks reached 23 percent, up from 20 percent in 2011. Among Hispanics, attainment rose to 15 percent, up from 13 percent in 2011.

Nationality: Among native-born young adults, a record 35 percent had earned at least a bachelor’s degree, up from 34 percent in 2011. Among immigrants, a record 28 percent have at least finished a bachelor’s degree in 2012, eclipsing the previous high of 27 percent in 2009.

The findings underscore results of several public opinion polls suggesting that most Americans increasingly view higher education as necessary. A 2009 Pew survey found that 73 percent of adults agreed that a college education is necessary to get ahead in life, up from 49 percent in 1978, when CBS News and The New York Times asked the same question.

Even so, opinions are mixed, particularly amid concerns about rising student debt. Just 57 percent of 3,000 Americans surveyed this summer by Country Financial, a group of insurance companies, said college is a good investment, down from 81 percent in 2008.

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