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College Attainment in America by Race and Geography [Report]

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Urban areas are hubs of racial and ethnic gaps when it comes to bachelor’s degree attainment rates, a new “Those Left Behind” report, released by the Center for American Progress, found.

According to the report, 93 counties that are urban or suburban rank top among 100 U.S. counties in terms of degree attainment. However, beneath these figures lies a grim reality. The high attainment figures from such counties conceal low attainment rates within many predominantly Black and Hispanic communities.

Even college towns that house flagship campuses are not immune to racial and ethnic gaps. The University of Virginia, the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California, Berkeley all have more than a 30 to 50 percentage point gap.

The report cited historical inequities, poor access to high-quality institutions, and migration, among other issues, as factors that are limiting postsecondary opportunities for people of color.

“A college education is still among the most important tools to achieve economic prosperity, but degrees are not distributed equally across the country,” Colleen Campbell, director of Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress and author of the report, said.

When college attainment rates are taken into account geographically, in the top 10 percent of counties, just 16 percent are rural. On the other side, 84 percent of the bottom 10 percent of counties in terms of attainment are classified as mostly or completely rural.

Despite covering 97 percent of U.S. land area, rural counties only house 14 percent of the nation’s college campuses, leaving 21 million adults without a college degree. Overall, 92 percent of bachelor degree recipients live in urban and suburban areas.

“While a greater number of Americans have a college degree than ever before, more than 60 percent of adults still have not earned one,” Campbell added. “When we take stock of college attainment nationwide, we can no longer overlook the role of place in who has access to college and goes on to get a degree.”

The report urged local, state, and federal policymakers to improve overall economic prosperity, encouraging approaches that include postsecondary and workforce-based reforms to increase overall attainment rates across the country.

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