Levels of postsecondary educational attainment have risen steadily in recent decades. In 1970, only 19% of North Carolina adults ages 25-64 had any postsecondary education, six percentage points less than the national rate of 25%. Though adult postsecondary attainment in the state increased in 1980 and again in 1990, a large gap remained between North Carolina and the nation. This gap narrowed to two percentage points in 2000. By 2010, postsecondary attainment in North Carolina was slightly higher than the national rate. Current data show the state rate remains above the national average.
Compared to the nation, 2014 data indicate that North Carolina’s prime working-age adult population has higher proportions of individuals with “some college, no degree” (22.7% vs. 21.6%) and associate’s degrees (10.1% vs. 8.9%). The proportion of North Carolina adults with a bachelor’s degree is similar to the national average—19.9% vs. 20%—but a lower proportion of North Carolina adults hold graduate or professional degrees (10.2% vs. 11.5%).
Like overall attainment rates, the gaps between North Carolina and the nation in higher levels of attainment have also closed in recent years. In 2000, 24% of NC working-age adults held a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 26.5% of all adults nationwide, a gap of 2.5 percentage points. In 2014, the gap had narrowed to 1.4 percentage points, with 30.1% of NC adults ages 25-64 holding a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 31.5% of all adults nationally.