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Between 2010 and 2020, the proportion of U.S. adults with college degrees increased by 6.7 percentage points, from 38.5% to 45.2%, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. 

The report, which also included state-level data, showed the number of New Jersey residents with associate degrees, or higher, exceeded the national average, increasing by 7.5 percentage points during the same 10-year period. 

This represented a 0.2 percentage point increase in New Jersey residents with associate degrees, a 3.7 percentage point increase in bachelor’s degrees and a 3.5 percentage point increase in graduate degrees. The percentage increase in New Jersey residents with bachelor’s degrees was the third highest in the nation. 

On a national level, the increase in educational attainment will lead to $14.2 trillion in additional net earnings for workers over their lifetimes, which will bolster the U.S. economy with additional spending and tax revenue, the report said. In New Jersey, higher educational attainment means a gain of $596 billion in lifetime earnings. 

However, the report also found that while all demographic groups experienced increases in college degree attainment, the “attainment gaps” persist between white adults and those in certain racial/ethnic groups. 

“Increased college degree attainment has been a boon to many workers and to society at large, but we’re still a long way from racial and economic justice,” CEW Director and lead author Anthony P. Carnevale said Thursday. 

“While all racial/ethnic groups increased their educational attainment, substantial attainment gaps persist between white adults and Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Indigenous adults. Attainment gaps by race/ethnicity were significant in 2010, and they remained significant in 2020.” 

In New Jersey, attainment equity worsened between 2010 and 2020 for Blacks and Hispanic/Latino adults, the report said. The Hispanic/Latino adults’ gap with white adults widened by 1.3 percentage points, and Black/African American adults’ gap with white adults widened by 3.5 percentage points, the report said. 

The lack of parity with white adults’ educational attainment leaves potential net lifetime earnings on the table, the report said. In New Jersey, the report estimated those lost earnings to be $373 billion for Hispanic/Latino adults and $218 billion for Black and African American adults. 

The report recommended systemic reforms to close attainment gaps, improve employment opportunity, and ensure earnings parity by: 

  • creating equitable opportunities for youth; 
  • fostering equal access to college degrees; 
  • ensuring equitable participation in high-earning majors; 
  • providing improved options for workers without college degrees; and 
  • seeking remedies for unequal pay in the labor market. 

The full report, Learning and Earning by College Degrees, released Jan. 18 by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, can be found here