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New Report Shows Progress and Gaps in Educational Attainment


TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas ranks 17th in the nation in people who have a “high quality” postsecondary credential, according to a group that promotes learning after high school.

With 55.7 percent of Kansans aged 25-65 having such credentials, Kansas exceeds the national average of 53.7 percent, according to the Lumina Foundation report.

The Lumina Foundation says that 60 percent of adults will need some quality credential beyond high school by 2025.

These credentials, on average, increase income and meet workforce needs. Although Kansas has been improving, large gaps remain across Kansas communities and population groups, which will likely result in economic disparities. The Lumina goal is similar to the Kansas State Board of Education’s “Kansans Can” vision of increasing postsecondary credentials. However, Kansas has set an even higher goal: getting 75 percent of students academically ready for college and having postsecondary success by 2030. There are a number of steps school leaders can take to reach this goal.

Which education credentials are counted? 

The Lumina report states, “To count toward this goal, any credential must have clear and transparent learning outcomes that lead to further education and employment.” Beginning in 2009, its data counted as quality credentials a two-year associate degree; a bachelor’s degree (usually requiring four years); and a graduate or professional degree. Each of these are awarded by higher education institutions and are reported as levels of educational attainment for the nation, states and localities by the U.S. Census Bureau.

As a result, the initial Lumina report did not consider anyone with “some college” but less than an associate degree as having a high-quality credential. However, stating that “Short-term credentials are an essential part of education beyond high school,” in 2014, the report began including an estimate of persons who have earned college-level certificates, such as awards for career technical education programs. In 2018, it added industry-recognized certifications. Because the U.S. Census does not report these credentials, the Lumina report estimates the number from other sources and subtracts them from the “some college” category. This estimate is not available below the state level.

Why do high-quality credentials matter?  

The report tracks these credentials because, on average, they lead to higher pay and more employment opportunities; and meet workforce needs. Although high school graduates still have better economic outcomes than those who drop out of high school, studies have shown that almost all net jobs created over the past decade require some education beyond a high school diploma. Almost all the increase in real income has gone to employees with such credentials.

That’s true in Kansas, as in all other states. In 2021, high school graduates, on average, earned about 11 percent more than employees without a high school diploma; those with some college but less than a four-year degree earned 30 percent more; those with four-year degrees earned 81 percent more, and those with graduate degrees earned 117 percent more. (The Lumina report also says there is a significant difference in the “some college” category between those who have completed an associate degree or certification and those who started but have not completed a college program.)

As income rises with credentials, poverty declines. In 2021, Kansans without a high school diploma had a 20 percent poverty rate; high school graduates had a 15 percent; up to two years of college, 9 percent; and those with a four-year degree or more, 4 percent.

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According to the Lumina report, about 10 percent of Kansans aged 25-65 did not finish high school, 23 percent graduated high school but have no post-secondary education; 13 percent have some college education but have not earned a credential; 9 percent have a certificate or certification; 9 percent an associate degree, 23 percent a bachelor’s degree and 13 percent a graduate or professional degree.

Education Credentials

Because education credentials are closely related to earnings in each state, there is a strong correlation between a state’s educational attainment as measured by the Lumina Foundation report and its average annual earnings. States with a more educational attainment tend to have higher average earnings.

Impact on Postsecondary Credentials on Annual Earnings by State

How does Kansas compare to other states?  

In 2021, Lumina reported Kansas’s educational attainment at 55.7 percent, two percentage points above the U.S. average and ranking 17th in the nation. Among neighboring and “Plains” states, Colorado (60.5 percent) and Minnesota (60.2 percent) were among just four states nationally that exceeded 60 percent. North Dakota (56.7 percent) and Nebraska (55.8 percent) ranked above Kansas. South Dakota (54.6 percent), Iowa (53.7 percent), Oklahoma (50.7 percent), and Missouri (50.5 percent) ranked lower.

Kansas also exceeded the national average in the percentage of 25-65-year-olds with completion of certificates and certifications (9.3 to 8.0 percent), associate degrees (9.3 to 9.2 percent), and bachelor’s degree degrees (23.6 to 22.7 percent), but trails the national average for graduate and professional degrees (13.5 to 13.8 percent).

Since 2009, Kansas educational attainment increased from 40.0 percent to 55.7 percent, a 15.7 percent improvement that includes 5.7 percent of individuals with postsecondary certificates first added in 2014 and 3.6 percent with industry-recognized credentials first added in 2018. In 2009, Kansas ranked 18th, one point below its ranking in 2021.

Local Kansas Attainment and Gaps  

The Lumina report website for Kansas also allows a search for individual counties, but it only reports the percentage of individuals with at least a two-year associate degree based on the U.S. Census estimates because certificate and certification data is not available at the county level. Three Kansas counties, Johnson (66.6 percent), Douglas (59.9 percent), and Riley (58.5 percent) are at or close to the national 60 percent goal, even without including short-term credentials.

Other Kansas counties range from a high of 51.6 percent to a low of 18.6 percent. It should be noted that this data is based on estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, and counties with a small population have larger margins of error.

Part of the difference in county education attainment reflects differences in attainment by population groups that are not even distributed across the state. In Kansas – as in all states – there are significant differences between major racial and ethnic groups. In Kansas, 60.2 percent of Asians have a high-quality educational credential, followed by 49.9 percent of Whites, 33.1 percent of African-Americans and 21.9 percent of Hispanics.

Kansas 2021 Median Earnings in Past 12 Months

Because of the link between educational credentials and income, it is not surprising that the same pattern occurs in average earnings, with White and Asian Kansans earning, on average, about 33 percent more than African Americans and Hispanics.

Continuing progress on educational attainment  

Because the Lumina report uses information from the U.S. Census and other sources for the age group 25-65, the impact of changes in educational attainment for Kansans under age 25 is not included, which would include most students in the last six graduating classes. While the high school graduation rate has increased to an all-time high in Kansas, overall enrollment at Kansas postsecondary institutions has been declining for a decade. More specifically, the number of credentials awarded peaked in 2019, fell during the COVID pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and has not recovered.

School leaders can consider the following strategies to increase the percentage of students with high-quality credentials leading to improved economic outcomes.

Focusing on academic preparation at all grade levels so students are prepared for postsecondary programs, including rigorous curriculum and instruction, regular assessment of student skills, targeted interventions and student support programs.

Strong individual plans for study based on career interests are developed with students and families so students better understand the relevance of what they are studying.

There has been an increasing focus on Career Technical Education courses and pathways, which can include opportunities for high school students to earn industry-recognized certifications. For example, the Governor’s Education Council has recommended expanding training for high school teachers to help students earn the Data Analytics certification from the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3).

There are expanded partnerships with postsecondary institutions to offer dual and concurrent enrollment programs, which allow students to complete or earn significant credit toward postsecondary while still in high school. Students earning credentials in high school have doubled since 2009.

Schools have also implemented improving college and career counseling services to help students navigate postsecondary planning, applications and financial assistance. As the Lumina report shows, only about half of Kansans aged 25-65 have completed a college credential. Many families have little direct experience with postsecondary education.

See the chart below for the attainment of high-value credentials by all states.

Postsecondary Credentials by Age