The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Get important education news and analysis delivered straight to your inbox

Choose from our newsletters

In February 2009, President Barack Obama set a goal of the U.S. having the highest proportion of college graduates aged 25-34 in the world by the year 2020. Holders of both associate and baccalaureate degrees count. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education broke down how many graduates each state would need to contribute for the nation to reach Obama’s goal.

Using as a baseline the proportion of college graduates aged 25-34 living in each state as of 2009, the Department called for most states to have between 45 and 60 percent of their populations holding degrees by 2020.

The projections aren’t perfect, of course—among other things, they’re based on the number of college graduates living in a given state, not the number of graduates a state is actually producing. Thus, there’s no way to account for individuals who earn their degrees in one state but move to another.

Even so, the projections provide a snapshot of how far the U.S. has to go. The Department set targets for each state, noting that “if every state makes its contribution at the midpoint of the ranges shown, the United States will again lead the world in college attainment by the end of the decade.”

The map below shows the percentage change required in the number of college graduates aged 25-34 in each state for the country to reach Obama’s goal. (The percentage change was calculated using the midpoint of the target ranges provided by the Department of Education.)

Alaska—where just 29,566 residents, or about 4 percent of the state’s population, had college degrees as of 2009—needs to more-than-double its number of college graduates in the next decade to hit Obama’s target. By contrast, the District of Columbia—where nearly 12 percent of residents hold degrees—needs to increase its number of college graduates by less than one percent.

Click on individual states for detailed information.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Sarah Butrymowicz oversees and contributes to The Hechinger Report’s investigative and data work covering all levels of education, from early childhood to K-12 to higher education. She has worked at...

Letters to the Editor

1 Letter

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

Submit a letter

Your email address will not be published.