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The Dumbing Down of America

If you ever doubted the decline of the American empire, a new report shows that the number of Americans obtaining college degrees is declining. Bottom line: Americans aged 25-34 have less education than their parent’s generation.

Americans have always aspired to give their children a better life, but we seem to be backsliding. A few weeks ago I posted about how Americans’ household net worth went down for the first time in history. But not only are we worse off economically, our children are not receiving as much education as we did.

Even worse, America is declining compared to the rest of the world. The US ranks second among countries of the world in the percentage of people aged 35-64 with a college degree. But among people aged 24-35 — the new generation in their most productive years — we rank tenth. Indeed, we are one of only two countries where the number of people receiving college degrees is declining. And for degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the situation is even worse.

The report doesn’t speculate on why our new generation isn’t getting college degrees, but given that the tuition has been increasing at double the rate of inflation over roughly the last 50 years, it seems like many young people just can’t afford to go to college any more.

Or maybe it is all the fault of Fox News.



  1. Grammar Nazi wrote:

    “Every American wants to give their children a better life . . .” is contains two grammatical errors.

    Choose among “Every American wants to give his/her children better lives,” or “All Americans want to give their children better lives,” or “Each American wants to give his/her child a better life.”

    Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 4:17 am | Permalink
  2. starluna wrote:

    As a college professor, I found the assertion that there are fewer people earning college degrees questionable. When I followed the thread back to the original report for this statistic, I found it came from the news release for an Association of American State Colleges and Universities report. The report was focused on how to ensure that students graduating from American universities remain “globally competitive.” The executive summary doesn’t say anything about there being a decline in educational attainment. It only discusses the international rankings of educational attainment. It is only in the news release where you see the claim that the data in the report show the assertion that young people today are less educated than their parents. It is possible that the data is in the full report, but you have to pay $15 for it and I’m not willing to do that.

    So I went to the U.S. Census. Here’s what I found:

    % of population 25 years or older with at 4+ years of college education (that’s how it was counted until 1990)
    1950 – 6%
    1960 – 8%
    1970 – 11%
    1980 – 16%

    % of population 25 years or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher:
    1990 – 20%
    2000 – 24%
    2005-2008 (ACS) – 27%

    Clearly, this says nothing about international rankings. However, based on my experience and on the census data, I do not believe that fewer Americans are earning college degrees today than in generations past.

    Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    You guys are ruthless!

    I fixed the grammar error. Yeah, I would have liked to have read the full report. Maybe someone has a copy of it and would be willing to see what the data says. The executive summary is not very helpful.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 7:38 am | Permalink
  4. Grammar Nazi wrote:

    “Americans have always aspired to give their children a better life” only contains one grammatical error.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  5. Iron Knee wrote:

    You think I should change “a better life” to “better lives”? I disagree. Changes the meaning. Compare to “I want to give everyone in the world a present”.

    So, is it ironic when a grammar nazi makes a mistake in his/her correction?

    Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  6. starluna wrote:

    I don’t think it’s your fault. The journalist at AlterNet should have done her own fact checking. Or, dare I say, have read the actual report rather than relying on the media release.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink
  7. Iron Knee wrote:

    Starluna, I really should have checked the original report. I usually try to. I did read the executive summary and noticed that it didn’t support the press release very well.

    In my own defense, I spent 14 hours driving home from another state yesterday, and didn’t have time to research this one enough, so I just trusted the person from AlterNet (who are usually pretty good). My bad.

    I still would like to see the original report, because if what the press release says is true, this is a very bad sign.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  8. Grammar Nazi wrote:

    Amazingly enough, “everyone” is singular. “Children” is plural.

    Admittedly, criticizing grammar is a dangerous game and can result in the operation of Muphry’s Law.

    Monday, January 18, 2010 at 8:48 am | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    The issue isn’t whether it is singular or plural, it is whether it needed to be “a better life” or “better lives” to match “everyone” or “Americans”. It doesn’t need to match in this case.

    Muphry’s Law?

    Monday, January 18, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  10. Grammar Nazi wrote:

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  11. Leetn wrote:

    To Grammar Nazi…
    The problem with focusing on grammar is that the reader tends to ignore content. Content of the text is what really matters. Besides, it’s my experience that readers who focuses on grammar tries to project their intellect through knowledge of grammar instead of knowledge about the content of the text, which sometimes reveals the grammar fanatic’s true intellect.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  12. Belinda wrote:

    As an engineer who is deeply concerned about the content of this message (the only significant content being we don’t have enough engineers and scientistis, or critical thinkers), I will tell you I don’t give a rat’s ass about grammar. Grammar doesn’t make airplanes fly, nor does it design bridges, nor does it power your computer or cell phone. It also doesn’t wrench on brake calipers or lubricate pistons. I am convinced the people who make such incredible feats possible? Probably even speak in broken English (gasp!). Oh my gosh a run on sentence, am I dumb to notice (uhm, yes)

    Sunday, December 18, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink