What percentage of Americans have a college degree

“To be successful in life, one must first earn a degree.” 

As the years went by, this phrase has been mentioned over and over again. That it is believed that you would only be able to achieve anything in life by having your college degree.

A piece of evidence showed that the increase of graduates from merely 4.6% of the US population in the early part of the 1940’s to 36% in 2019.

But does earning a degree equate to success?

 Earning a college degree has become one of the basic requirements for employment in the United States today.

 The continuous increase in the cost of education has not deterred students from looking to obtain a degree, which results in requesting scholarship grants or even resulting in asking for loans.

As of the year 2020, approximately 3.9 million students have graduated from some form of degree in the United States.

 Most students obtain at least a Bachelor’s degree, while others have settled to an Associate’s degree.

 Trends showed an increasing number of students proceeding to take their Master’s and even up to their Doctorate degree.

 It is a good number when you look at it but let’s take a deeper understanding of the current situation of College graduates statistics in the United States today.

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Key Statistics to Learn About College Graduates – 2024

  • 36% of the population in the US has 4+ years of college.
  • The percentage of college graduates gradually increased from 4.6% in the early ’40s to 36% today.
  • Females have a slightly higher percentage of graduating with 36.6% than 35.6% on males.
  • The population between the ages of 30-34 showed a great increase in enrolment during the Great Recession.
  • White American leads the number of students enrolled in the degree-granting postsecondary institution with 10,301,292 students.
  • Students majoring in industrial production technologies lead the students that would least likely to graduate with 18.1%.
  • In 2018, College graduation stats indicate that College degree graduates lead associates graduates by as much as 1 million students.
  • It takes about 3-6 months for a graduate to land and secures a job after graduation.

What Percent of the Population is With College Degree?

In 2019, approximately 3.9 million students graduated with at least an associate’s degree in the US. Leading is the 1.9 million bachelor’s degree graduates and then followed by 989,000 graduates of associate’s degree. With post-graduate studies combining to nearly a million graduates.

As the percentage of people with a college degree has begun to rise, a report indicates that in the year 2040, the number of graduates in the US with at least a bachelor’s degree would be around 60% of the population.

With only 41% of the graduates from a 4-year college finishing on time, it shows the commitment of students to pursue their degree even in a much longer time. With students taking loans and paying through working while studying, it indeed would take a much longer time for them to finish.

The gap from the 1940s indicates that the importance of having a college-degreed has increased through time with an average college graduation rate of 3.7% per decade.

An indication of the value of having a degree has increased through time.

Compelling College Graduates Statistics 2020

How Many American Students Graduate From College Each Year?

With the advancement of the education system, more and more people in college had the opportunity to earn their degrees.

As it’s the number of graduates set to increase every year, the value of having just an associate degree has not stop students from proceeding to get their bachelor’s degree.

In 2015 statistics on college graduates shows the number of female graduates outnumbered male graduates. It showed how far the educational system has come, from male-dominated graduates in 1900 to an equal or even greater number of female graduates in the current educational system.

Current graduation numbers suggest that earning a college degree has been implanted in the minds of youths all over the country and indicate that it is the norm with the majority feeling like they have no other options but to pursue a degree.

One barrier that might deter this trend is the continuous rise in the costs of education in the United States from $20,770 for public schools and $46,950 for nonprofit private schools.

College Graduate Enrollment by Institution

1. 19.8 million students have enrolled in colleges that grant degrees in the year 2018.

The majority of the enrollees seek public institutions. With 14.6 million enrollees, in comparison with the 4.1 million enrollees in a private, nonprofit institution, and approximately 1million enrollees on a for-profit institution.

As the cost of education continues to rise, students who are determined to finish their degrees would choose a cheaper institution.

State universities Or colleges such as the University of Florida and Daytona State College are excellent choices for students to pursue an associate degree or those who are still looking for their passion or career path as they show a high percentage of college graduates per by state.

It is a good jumpstart for those who are doing student works or part-time jobs as they give opportunities to fit your schedule to their classes.

The value of education has increased significantly as there are more US college graduates per year that pursue their master’s degree programs in both public and private institutions, with 4.1 million enrollees on master’s degree programs compared to 1.2 million enrollees on bachelor’s degrees.

Still, the associate’s degree still outnumbered the bachelor’s degree 5:1 enrolment ratio.

2. 2.8 million elected very high-level research universities.

We’re talking about institutions like Yale, Stanford, Duke, New York University.

These types of schools supply the highest education possible such as a Doctorate degree, while also having the highest costs for tuition as well.

It takes a lot just to even be looked at being a potential student for these well-established schools. Most students had to maintain a 4.0-grade point average throughout their entire high school years.

Join activities such as sports and clubs, and have to have many hours of volunteer or community service hours. The more positive remarks on a student’s high school record the better their chances of getting in. They also have to pass the ACT and SAT with flying colors on top of submitting an amazing college application as well. Getting into an institution like this takes a ton of discipline and determination.

3. 634,802 enrolled in doctoral/research programs.

This number represents the students who completed all their degrees and finally, after 6 long years, they finally made it to the top.

These students go on to be doctors, therapists, and scientists. As it is also the highest degree a student may attain.

4. 2.5 million enrolled in master’s degree programs.

Students enroll for their masters because of the higher-paying positions that are available to them in their field of study. This degree program also expands your research on niches that you are completely passionate about.

Another study found that while a student works on their master’s they are also expanding their network and creating lifelong business partners that will help shape their future career.

5. 1.5 million enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs.

A bachelor’s degree is one of the most top priority degrees to actually have when applying for jobs. Jobs that are related to office administration, lawyer’s offices, and teaching require you to have a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s degrees are considered an undergraduate degrees due to the fact it only takes four years to complete.

6. 94,377 enrolled in special focus single-field-of-study programs.

This is where your CNA’s, LPN’s, Vet techs, come to learn. It’s a program that can last from several weeks to a year, maybe a year and a half. Also, trade schools fall into this department as well. Trade schools offer a variety of single-focused fields such as bartenders, plumbers, chefs, beauty, etc.
Trade school is a great alternative to college, especially when it comes to the financial situation.

7. 5.4 million enrolled in a 2-year degree or certificate program.

Students who enroll in 2-year degree programs have just graduated high school in the previous school year. So the age groups are typically between 17-22.

 The first two years of college can make or break a student. You have students who achieve and continue up their education ladder and you have people who decide to leave college life due to life circumstances. 

 People who decide to leave usually have life circumstances that they couldn’t tie into their school life such as moving, pregnancy, finances, etc. You also have students who get overstressed and depressed to the point they decide that college is just not for them. 

 Going through the first two years is a breeze compared to the higher-up degrees. Most students use their first two years at a local Community College before they head on up to a university or state college. 

College Graduates by Demographics

8. Female graduates outnumbered the male.

By 2015 the number of female graduates outnumbered male students enrolled in 4+ year College with 36.6% of the female population compared to 35.4% of the male population.

This is a great indication of how females perceived education compared in early 1900 was only 27,410 had bachelor’s degree graduates and only 19.1% or 5,235 of those are female.

The female revolution has come a long way, from seeking equal rights and opportunity to them dominating the academic field and even heading job opportunities.

9. The number of enrolled for a college degree at the age of 20-21 grows.

With more and more students finishing high school at the age of 19, the number of enrollees for a college degree in the age bracket of 20 to 21 has significantly increased over time from 31.9% in the early ’70s to 54.9% today.

The age group of 20 to 21 age group has the largest increase from the 1970s with an 18.6% rise. This is due to the increase in the cost of education in the United States and students tend to work first before trying their hands in college.

Some take a year or two off, to understand their passion, work their way up to college, or rest in other to have a clear vision towards college as the average years in college went up.

What remains constant is that the age group of 18 to 24 years old group remains the majority of students attending college with 11million students compared to 6.1 million of the older brackets.

The great recession, which represents the downfall of all economic activity in the late 2000s showed the sudden surge of enrolment from age 30 to 34, as they took this chance to go back to college and learn new things and look for something that would make them more valuable.

9. The percentage of other races enrolled for college degrees has increased.

Compelling College Graduates Statistics 2020 1Once schools started accepting people of all races, the percentage of other races started to increase each and every year With an increase of 26.4% of enrollment from nonwhite Americans from 1980 to 2018.

As it was extremely rare for a colored man to even have some sort of education in the 1980s, Alexander Twilight became the first African-American man to have earned a bachelor’s degree from an American College.

The female revolution also paved the way for African American and Hispanic female students, as it showed great improvements from age group 18 to 24 in terms of the number of enrollees with African American enrollee’s increased by 5% and Hispanic females by 16%.

Type of College Degrees & Field of Study

With trends on enrollment going up, a large portion of undergraduate students are least likely to graduate:

Commercial Art and Graphic Design

With one of the lowest percentages in this list, graduates from this major have a 9.7% chance of not finishing it.

The field of arts is slowly dying due to the lack of jobs that are being provided now a day. Students from these majors get super uneasy when they find out the competition is brutal, and that very few people become successful in this field. 

 But with a small number of students taking this major, the chance of failing is slim and only students passionate about their craft are taking it, the passing rate has gone up.

Industrial Arts and Consumer Services

Schools have been turning children away from the industrial arts for a while now, saying it’s a field for the minority, and how it’s considered an “easy curriculum.”

Most people somehow managed to believe that these jobs are just another “dead end” job with no room for professional growth.

This is also another great alternative to choose from compared to a full engineering degree and with only 11% of students majoring in Industrial arts and consumer services, it has become a much better alternative.

Hospitality Management

The cost of traveling has become more pricey every year, as fewer families are going out and booking rooms from hotels.

With less work and more graduates, the number of job opportunities has become stiff, which in turn has students turn away from the Hospitality major.

But with an 88.2% chance of finishing this major, expect a boom in the number of enrollees.

Marketing and Marketing Research

With the advancement in the field of digital marketing, majors in marketing are bound into expanding into the digital era.

With new curriculums and advancements in technologies, the number of students least likely to graduate with these majors has risen to 15.2% and is most likely to rise in the coming years.

The Film, Video, and Photographic Arts

With the common misconception that Arts is a dying field, with the advancement in cameras, smartphones, and photo editing software, no one seems to care about the arts anymore.

 But the art industry is still booming, it is evolving with the current trends of the digital era. But even with the slightest bit of failure, the requirement to finish arts has become high that 16% of art majors are most likely to not graduate.

Mechanical Engineering

With one of the most majors taken by students with a passion for the technical field, the passing rate has fallen to 82.9%.

As the current trends in technological advancement reach their peak, more and more demands in the engineering field lure students to pursue the major.

Educational Attainment in the United States

Compelling College Graduates Statistics 2020 2

2-Year/Community Colleges & Associate’s Degrees

The first two years of schooling are mainly teaching the students the basics and getting their credentials out of the way.

With 2-year/community colleges producing around 1.5 million graduates in 2018 from associate degrees, certificates, and baccalaureate degrees. The trend in students pursuing 2-year courses is real.

Students who have an associate in teaching or child development are usually the second adult you would find in classrooms, who are also referred to as “Teacher assistants.”

This is also the two-year period where you will find a lot of college dropouts due to private life circumstances, depression, or too much stress where one feels like college is just not for them.

4-Year Colleges & Bachelor’s Degrees

Most companies will ask that you have a bachelor’s degree to even be considered as a potential employee depending on the position a graduate is applying for.

With the common knowledge that a bachelor’s degree is your gateway to a better life, the majority of students would proceed to take this, as evidenced with the 1.9 million students who graduate in 2018.

The following course made up the bulk number of graduates:

  • Business with 386,201 degrees awarded
  • Health professions and related programs with 244,909 degrees awarded
  • Social sciences and history with 159,967 degrees awarded
  • Engineering with 121,956 degrees awarded
  • Biological and biomedical sciences with 118,663 degrees awarded
  • Psychology with 116,432 degrees awarded
  • Communication, journalism, and related programs with 92,290 degrees awarded
  • Visual and performing arts with 88,582 degrees awarded
  • Education with 82,621 degrees awarded
  • Computer and information sciences with 79,598 degrees awarded

Master’s Degrees

With the steady rise of students pursuing their master’s degrees, the demands of postgraduate holders have also increased. In 2018 around 800,000 students graduated with a master’s degree in the US.

Also going through your master course gives you plenty of time to start networking, interning, learning, and building future business partners for your future career path,

The leading fields of study are as follows:

  • Business with 192,184 degrees awarded
  • Education with 146,367 degrees awarded
  • Health professions and related programs with 125,216 degrees awarded
  • Engineering with 51,721 degrees awarded
  • Computer and information sciences with 46,468 degrees awarded
  • Public administration and social services with 46,294 degrees awarded
  • Psychology with 27,841 degrees awarded
  • Social sciences and history with 19,884 degrees awarded
  • Visual and performing arts with 17,686 degrees awarded
  • Biological and biomedical sciences with 17,180 degrees awarded

Doctorate Degrees

With one of the highest degrees available, only decided students tend to proceed up to their Doctorate’s Degree.

As these students have spent years and years learning about their major, with passion as well, they would eventually be part of the 55,195 students who graduated in 2018.

Employment Rates of Сollege Graduates

About 53% are unemployed or found a job that did not require a master’s degree.

It takes about 3-6 months for a graduate to land and secure a job after graduation.

In 2018, unemployment was an astonishing 86% for young adults with a bachelor’s degree and higher up.

College Graduation Rates Over Time

For students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree at public institutions, rates were 33.3% with 52.8% coming from private institutions.

While for a master’s degree the percentage was 57.6% at a private institution.

Last for a doctorate degree at a private institution we are looking at 65.45%.


The current trends suggest that having a bachelor’s degree is to have a decent job has become a reality. The rate of college graduates having a lower percentage of 2.7% unemployment rate compared to those who only have a high school diploma which is around 5%.

As of the most recent studies 1.9 million students have graduated with a bachelor’s degree. When it comes to undergraduate engineering jobs, which happens to be the less popular of any field.

One in four adults has a degree, the most popular one being a bachelor. America has roughly around 33% of adults 25 and higher who say they have at the least a bachelor’s degree. Every year, approximately 18.2 million students are attending college every single year. That number is expected to rise by the time it’s 2028.

Frequently Asked Questions
How many people have a bachelor’s degree?

There are about 1.9 million students who graduated with their bachelor’s degrees in 2019, with the majority of them being female.

How many engineers graduate each year in the USA?

In 2018 a total of 121,956 engineering students graduated in the US, with 51,721 students who proceeded to continue and finish their master’s degree.

What percent of adults in the U.S. are college graduates or higher?

One in four adults has a degree, the most popular one being a bachelor. America has roughly around 33% of adults 25 and higher who say they have at the least a bachelor’s degree.

How many students go to college each year?

Every year, approximately 18.2 million students are attending college every single year. That number is expected to rise by the time it’s 2028.

What bachelor’s degree has the most graduates?

Being the most stable field of industry, business majors remain the most graduates with 386,201 degrees awarded in 2018.

What age has the highest enrollee in the US population?

With fresh high school graduates and previously leading, in 2019 ages 20 to 21 have reached 54.6% of the US population.

Helen Vlasova
Helen is the co-founder of admissionsly.com, a career guidance website for students and young professionals. She has a degree in English from the University of Michigan. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.

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