College Attainment

Desired Trend


Current Trend

Baseline (2010): 30.0%
Current (2015): 32.5%

Theme Educated


Percent of adults age 25 and over with a bachelor's or graduate degree

Why is it Important?

In addition to social capital and natural capital, human capital is an important component of sustainability. Human capital is the sum of knowledge, skills, and creativity held by individuals. The economic output and quality of life in a region is dependent on the level of human capital. Increasing college attainment is a strategic way to develop human capital, and is associated with increases in gross metropolitan product (GMP) and wages. Specifically, for every 1-year increase in the average years of schooling among metropolitan area workers, GMP per capita increases by 10.5 percent and real wages per worker increase by 8.4 percent. These gains are even higher when the additional schooling is post-secondary.1 The shift in the economy toward knowledge-based industries makes higher education even more important. A study of job openings in the region found that 41.8 percent of openings in January and February of 2012 required a bachelor’s degree or higher, while only 15.3 percent of unemployed individuals had a degree, and only 29.9 percent of adults in the region had a degree (as of 2010). For jobs that require a high school diploma or less, there are more job candidates (51.2 percent of the unemployed), but fewer jobs available (25.7 percent of job openings).2

The Regional Chamber’s Top Ten in College Attainment Initiative seeks to increase college attainment in the St. Louis region. The initiative highlights the importance of college attainment in improving employment, earnings, and community wealth. The college attainment rate is influenced by the number of youth and adults in the St. Louis region who successfully complete college, the number of graduates who choose to stay in the region, and the number college educated individuals who move to the region.

How are we Doing?

The college attainment rate in the St. Louis region increased from 30.0 in the baseline year 2010 to 32.5 in 2015. Since 2006, the number of adults aged 25 and older with a college degree increased by 19 percent to around 626,000 adults in 2015. From 2006 to 2015, the rate for the St. Louis MSA increased by about the same as for the nation as a whole—a 3.9 percentage point increase compared to a 3.6 percentage point increase. In 2015, the rate for the St. Louis region was slightly higher than the rate of 30.6 for the nation.

In 2015, the St. Louis region did not have as high of a college attainment rate as many of the peer regions. St. Louis ranked 29th among the 50 largest metropolitan regions (the peer regions) with 32.5 percent of adults having a bachelor’s degree or higher.

There are stark differences in college attainment levels among different racial groups. In St. Louis, the disparity in college attainment levels is high relative to the other peer regions. Compared with the 50 peer regions, St. Louis ranks 16th in terms of disparity between white and black adults with a college degree. The percentage of white adults with a college degree is around twice that of black adults.  This ratio is slightly higher than the national ratio of 1.7. In the St. Louis region, college attainment levels are highest among Asian adults, with a college attainment rate of 63.3 percent, followed by white adults with a rate of 34.0 percent. College attainment levels are lowest for black adults with a rate of 17.6.

College Attainment

Geographic Level

St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). View map.


1 DeVol, Ross C., I-Ling Shen, Armen Bedroussian, and Nan Zhang, Matter of Degrees: The Effect of Edcuational Attainment on Regional Economic Prosperity, Milken Institute, February 2013; accessed on 12 February 2014 at

2 Rothwell, Jonathan, Education, Job Openings, and Unemployment in Metropolitan America, Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, August 2012; accessed 18 February 2014 at

Data Sources

U.S. Census and American Community Survey, United States Census Bureau