College Attainment

Desired Trend


Current Trend

Baseline (2010): 29.9%
Current (2021): 37.1%

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).2

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 29.9 percent in the baseline year 2010 to 37.1 percent in 2021. Since 2006, the number of adults aged 25 and older with a college degree increased by 38.3 percent to around 728,582 adults in 2021. From 2006 to 2021, the college attainment rate for the St. Louis MSA and for the United States as a whole increased at similar rates, 8.5 percentage points and 8.0 percentage points, respectively. In 2021, the college attainment rate in St. Louis was slightly higher than the rate of 35.0 for the nation.

Among the peer regions, the college attainment rate in St. Louis is about in the middle. In 2021, St. Louis ranked 27th among the 50 most populous metropolitan regions (the peer regions).

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 many of the peer regions. Compared with the 50 peer regions, St. Louis ranks 21st in terms of disparity between white and black adults with a college degree. The percentage of white adults with a college degree is close to twice that of black adults (a ratio of 1.76). This ratio is slightly higher than the national ratio of 1.57. In the St. Louis region, college attainment levels are highest among Asian adults, with a college attainment rate of 65.7 percent, followed by white adults with a rate of 39.5 percent. College attainment levels are lowest for black adults with a rate of 22.6 percent.

Over the last 19 years, a growing share of adults are attending post-secondary schooling, which includes all schooling beyond high school. In 2000, 54 percent of adults in the St. Louis region had attended some form of post-secondary education. In 2021, nearly 67 percent, or about 1.2 million adults, in the St. Louis region had attended post-secondary schooling. Of this total, around 739,000 adults, or 63 percent, reported having graduated with a degree (including Associate degrees). This means, about 37 percent of adults in the St. Louis region have attended post-secondary schooling but have not earned a degree.

When looking at this percentage across different racial groups, there is a large gap between white and black adults. Out of the total number of white adults that have attended post-secondary schooling in 2021, 28.8 percent have not earned a degree. For black adults, 44.8 percent of those who have attended post-secondary schooling have not earned a degree.

College Attainment Disparity in 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