Young US adults are now better educated

The recession has forced folks back to schools, which should ultimately make the US work force better prepared in the global economy.

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Not much good has come from the lingering recession, but one ray of sunshine appeared the other day.

America's young adults, those between the ages of 25 and 29, are more focused on getting an education than previous generations, according to a report this week in The New York Times based on census data crunched by the Pew Research Center.

Pew found record numbers of young Americans are completing high school, going to college and finishing college.

Times reporter Tamar Lewin writes that this year, for the first time, a third of the nation's 25- to 29-year-olds have earned at least a bachelor's degree. In the early 1970s that figure was one in five, or 20 percent.

In addition, she reported, the share of high school graduates in that age group, along with the share of those with some college, have also reached record levels. This year, 90 percent are high school graduates (up from 78 percent in 1971) and 63 percent have completed some college (up from 34 percent in 1971).

Why? The economy is rotten and people have been forced to go back to school to secure jobs and a better future for themselves. According to Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the wage premium for those with college degrees is up 40 percent since 1983.

And it likely would be even higher if not for the recession.

"The demand for college graduates has been increasing about 3 percent a year, while the supply has increased only 1 percent a year, which is why the college wage premium has increased so precipitously," he said.

The demand for high school graduates has also increased as the job market has grown tighter. Employers can be pickier.

Some experts view this surge in education as an important step forward for the United States, which once was the world's leader in education but has lagged behind in recent years.

Education experts were concerned because older Americans were more educated than younger people. This is what's know as an "education reversal."

But now, the Pew report determined, "the education reversal that arose in the first decade of the 2000s has vanished or been reversed by recent improvements in the education attainment of young adults."

Ultimately, this should leave the U.S. better prepared for the future when the economy becomes more stable. The trick will be to sustain these gains in the decades ahead so this nation continues to be well positioned to compete in the global economy.

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