Alabama Shows Dramatic Improvement in Education Attainment; State Remains Below National Average But Is Catching Up

Alabama Shows Dramatic Improvement in Education Attainment; State Remains Below National Average But Is Catching Up

  • July 29th, 2019
Alabama Shows Dramatic Improvement in Education Attainment; State Remains Below National Average But Is Catching Up

Estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau show Alabama’s educational level improving, and dramatic improvement is shown in those groups who have historically been less educated, the Alabama State Data Center at The University of Alabama reports.

The findings are based on a survey conducted in 1998 and refer to the population 25 years old and over.

“Educational attainment is one of the most important influences on economic well-being,” says Annette Jones Watters, assistant director of Center for Business and Economic Research and manager of the Alabama State Data Center in UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration.

“More education tends to reflect greater socioeconomic success for individuals and for the state.”

In 1990, one out of every three Alabama adults did not have as much as a high school education. By 1998 that average had dropped to about one out of five. Alabama’s overall educational level remains below the national average, but is catching up.

The census information showed that significant differences remain with regard to age and race, but the percentages of whites and blacks with a high school education attained a record level in 1998. Among whites in the state, 81 percent were high school graduates or more, compared with the 72 percent recorded for blacks. The black/white educational attainment gap is narrowing as the proportion of black students obtaining a high school degree has increased considerably during the past decade.

Over the last 20 years high school completion among young adults has been higher than during earlier periods of Alabama’s history, Watters said. “During the past decade the proportion of the young adult population with a bachelor’s degree has also increased, although more modestly. Younger people tend to be better educated than older Alabamians. The educational level of the total adult population will continue to rise for some time, as younger, more educated age groups replace older, less educated ones.”

College-educated people are fewer in Alabama than the national average, but the gap is closing. Twenty percent of Alabama adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 24 percent nationwide.

The South has the lowest educational attainment level of any region of the country. Of the bottom tier of states by percent of high school graduates (Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, South Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Kentucky), only New Mexico is not a Southern state.

Educational attainment and economic well-being are closely linked. Average earnings increase at each progressively higher level of education. For example, in 1997 the national average earnings for people who completed only high school was $22,895. For those with a bachelor’s degree, the average earnings rose to $40,478. This relationship holds true not only for the entire population, but also across each subgroup of gender and race.

“It is important for Alabama to continue to increase its educational levels because education brings returns to the state as well as to individuals,” Watters said. “Research and development, innovative business practices, and technology advances are the results of a well-educated population.”

High employment levels in well-paying jobs result from increased education levels, she added. “Functions such as product design, market research, engineering, tooling, transportation, and advertising can employ more people—and at higher wages—than the factories that produce tangible goods. Most of these business services jobs require education beyond high school. How well Alabamians are educated will strongly influence both the state’s long-term prosperity and the well-being of its labor force.”