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Educational Attainment

Variable Definitions:

Bachelor’s Degree or Higher: The percentage of the population ages 25 and older who have a Bachelor’s (4-year) degree or higher level of education

Associate’s Degree or Higher: The percentage of the population ages 25 and older who have an Associate’s (2- year) Degree

Less than High School: The percentage of the population ages 25 and older without a high school diploma

American Community Survey, 5-year estimates, Tables B14004 & B15002

Years Available:*
2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022

*Note: Each year of available data shown above is a 5-year estimate, or an average of data collected over a five year period. 5-year estimates are used to increase the reliability of the data at small geographies like neighborhoods and census tracts. The years shown on the NDSC map represent the final year of the five year average (e.g. “2010” represents 2006-2010 data, “2011” represents 2007-2011 data, and so on). For the most impactful comparison of data over time, the ACS recommends comparing non-overlapping years (e.g. 2010-14 with 2015-19).

Why are these variables important to measure?

Bachelor’s Degree or Higher

A Bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree awarded by colleges and universities to students who have completed coursework typically lasting four years. Obtaining a Bachelor’s degree appears to be of growing social and economic importance, particularly for younger generations. Across age groups, obtaining a bachelor’s degrees often leads to higher incomes and lower rates of unemployment. 

Measuring education level is also an important tool for neighborhood development as communities with a large number of college graduates may have a different demand certain goods and services as well as different overall qualifications as a workforce. A growing number of students believe that they must go to graduate school to be competitive in applying for jobs, adding more time in school and higher tuition costs. Approximately 45% of the current federal student loan debt is taken for master’s and PhD programs. Students earn more on average after completing a graduate degree. 

Associate’s Degree or Higher

According to the Census Bureau, the category of Associate’s Degree includes “people whose highest degree is an associate’s degree, which generally requires 2 years of college level work and is either in an occupational program that prepares them for a specific occupation, or an academic program primarily in the arts and sciences. The course work may or may not be transferable to a bachelor’s degree.” Students are expected to complete a combination of general education courses and electives, as well as units related to their major. The California Community Colleges (CCC’s) is the largest higher education system in the nation with 116 colleges, and provides certificate pathways and guaranteed transfer to a University of California, California State University, or Historically Black College campus. California as a state benefits from the economic mobility that CCC generates; taxpayers experience an additional $2 in tax revenue for every $1 invested in CCC, and students’ lifetime earnings increase by $5.
Vocational degrees, also known as career technical education (CTE), are specifically designed to improve employment opportunities by training students for industry-specific labor. Vocational degrees typically take less time than obtaining an associate degree, and a growing number of jobs are becoming available for both vocational and associate’s degree recipients. It is estimated that over 16 million jobs created between 2010 and 2020 required education and training beyond high school but less than a bachelor’s degree. Vocational and associate degrees are also a cost-effective pathway to education and job training, with the average price of attending a four-year university rising by nearly 30% over the last decade. 

Black and Latino students make up nearly 70% of the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) enrollment and are overrepresented in associate’s degrees and certificate attainment. Low-income students are also more likely to enroll in vocational programs. However, only 13% of both Black and Latinx students are supported to transfer within four years of enrolling compared to 46% of white students. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this disparity; in Fall 2020, LACCD Latinx student enrollment decreased by 32% and Black student enrollment decreased by 40%. High rates of unemployment created affordability barriers for students, concerns of the quality of online education deterred students from wanting to enroll, and fears of catching COVID-19 prevented continuing students from re-enrolling. Associate degree recipients are much more likely to make upper-middle income wages compared to if they had not earned it. Policies and strategies to retain students in CCC and support students in receiving their credentials is important for economic mobility and educational attainment. 

Less than High School

Not obtaining a high school diploma can often lead to lower lifetime earnings, higher chances of living in poverty, and may even contribute to lower health outcomes.

Measuring the share of people without a high school diploma in a neighborhood can help determine the scope of social services like adult education and job training programs that might be needed. Additionally, there may be an increased need for additional support for current high school students and their families in neighborhoods with lower educational attainment rates. 
Written by Gabriela Magaña


American Community Survey. 2017 Subject Definitions. Link. 

Belfield, Clive R., Henry M. Levin, and Rachel Rosen. “The economic value of opportunity youth.” Civic Enterprises. Link 

Carnevale, A.P., Gardia, T.I., Ridley, N., Quin, M.C. (2020). The Overlooked Value of Certificates and Associate’s Degrees. (Report). Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED604942.pdf
Carnevale, A.P., Smith, N., & Strohl, J. (2020). Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020. (Report). Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. https://cewgeorgetown.wpenginepowered.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.FR_.Web_.pdf
“The Economic Value of the California Community College System.” (January 2022). California Community Collegeshttps://assets.cccco.edu/share/51B197C8-519B-49FD-BCAEFE10781A2B0D/?mediaId=11A71E97-C56A-4E3D-8F62C88E51A719B9&viewType=grid

“Left behind in America: The nation’s dropout crisis.” Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University & The Alternative Schools Network, 5 May 2009. Link
Pham, M., Greaney, K.C., & Abel, L. (2019). California Community Colleges Produce Positive Employment Outcomes: Results from the Career Technical Education Outcomes Survey. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 44(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/10668926.2019.1650843
“The rising cost of not going to college.” Pew Research Center: Social & Demographic Trends, 11 February 2014. Link

Rodin, Judith and Eme Essien Lore. “Youth opportunity: Rethinking the next generation.” Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, vol. 8, no. 1/2, 2013, pp. 11-17. Link
Schoen, E., Hulburd, K., Yap, C., & Painter, G. (2021). Resilience & Rebuilding: Recommendations for an Equitable Recovery from COVID-19 in South Los Angeles. (Report). Sol Price Center for Social Innovation. https://coalitionrcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/CRCD-Resilience-and-Rebuilding-South-LA-Post-Pandemic.pdf

“The State of Higher Education for Latinx and Black Angelenos.” (February 2022). The Campaign for College Opportunityhttps://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED622057.pdf

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