Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Postsecondary Education and Labor Market Outcomes in the U.S.

In this paper, the authors seek to provide a fairly comprehensive and up-to-date snapshot of the most important postsecondary education and labor market outcomes in the U.S. using two nationally representative sources of data: The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and The National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS).

This national overview can serve as an important benchmark for the growing literature using administrative state level data to explore educational outcomes.

Postsecondary educational attainment has risen modestly over the past two decades, with greater gains in BA attainment in the 1990s and in certificate and AA attainment since 2000 (though attainment rose in response to the Great Recession at all levels). Both younger and older cohorts of blacks and Hispanics have made relative progress in the attainment of certificates and AAs but still lag behind whites in the entry into and completion of BA programs; completion rates in BA programs also lag substantially for those from low-income families or with weak academic achievement in high school.

There are labor market returns for all postsecondary credentials, including certificates and AA degrees, though these vary across field of study. Large gender gaps exist in field of study, with men favoring high paying fields.

High school achievement measures explain much of the racial gaps in BA attainment and annual earnings and some of the gaps by family background, though they account for little of the continuing gender gap in annual earnings.

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