Who in the World Holds a College Degree?

Posted By Staff Writer on October 19, 2011

Our world population is near 7 billion. And much of what we have accomplished as a people has come to fruition due to a great deal of education. Humans have walked on the moon, cloned sheep, created cars that run on used French fry oil, and have conducted human face transplants. With so many strides in development, the majority of people have been to college, right? Reality is that a very small percent of the population has earned a higher education degree. The vast majority of workers worldwide hold jobs that do not require college degrees, such as manual laborers and factory workers. Low wages and less ideal working conditions reflect a lack of degree. Only 6.7% of the world’s population holds a college degree. It is often assumed that the percentage is higher because, simply, those with degrees make headlines.  They are the ones who make the big decisions. Who make breakthroughs. Make bigger impacts and change history. They are the ones who get noticed.

Looking at a 99-year history as reported by the US Bureau of the Census, the number of Americans (25-years and older) holding college degrees has been on a steady incline from 2.7 to 29.5% (1910-2009). Approximately one-third of all Americans hold a college degree. To better understand the gravity of the difference education makes regarding lifetime earnings, The College Board, 2005, shares “The typical bachelor’s degree recipient can expect to earn about 73 percent more over a 40-year working life than the typical high school graduate earns over the same time period.” Evidentially, it is well worth it financially to earn a degree. But the scale is tilted. By ethnicity in 2003, Americans holding Bachelor’s degrees or higher:


Asian 49.8%
Caucasian 27.6%
African American 17.3%
Native American 11.5%
Hispanic 11.4%


At Independence Universities afflite, CollegeAmerica’s main Arizona campus in Flagstaff, the report looks much different. Of Associates and Bachelor’s degrees candidates in 2009/2010, the breakdown was 70 percent Native American, 14 percent Caucasian, 8.5 percent unknown, 6.5 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent African American. This private sector career college is filling a much needed niche for minorities. 

Located less than five miles away, Northern Arizona University’s Native American enrollment stands at 7%. Nichol Esquivel, head-of-household and single parent, is part-Navajo and a first generation college graduate. 

“I came to college because I want to provide the best life for my son.  Growing up, my mom never had the time or money for anything extracurricular for me; I want to enroll my son in karate or Boy Scouts if he wants, and I want to be able to be there cheering on the sidelines instead of working my fingers to the bone for pennies.” 

Nichol continued, “I dream of the day that Sabastan enters college himself; I want to start saving now so that he doesn’t need to begin his life with as much debt as I accrued before I started school. Also I don’t want to be a burden on him when I am old; I know that my mom will financially depend on me for the rest of her life. I think about the lifelong effect of my college degree.  Every time I see the 80 year old woman waitressing for minimum wage at Sizzler’s it breaks my heart.” 

Nichol has earned her Associates degree in Medical Specialties and is midway through her Bachelor’s classes. Her future has promise. In 2011, CollegeAmerica-Flagstaff student body consisted of 39 percent first generation college students, pioneering the change of course of generations to come. 

Historically, children of college graduates are much more likely to go to college. In a 2005 national study done of 263,710 freshmen at four-year colleges, only 16% of them were first-generation college students. This exemplifies the fact that 74% followed the way already paved by parents or grandparents seeking broader opportunities and a brighter future. Additionally, 61 percent of CollegeAmerica-Flagstaff students are parents;  31 percent are single parents.

Compare this with the Department of Education findings that nationally, 13 percent of college students are single parents. The difference is resounding; fast track programs with flexible day and night programs and established resources for non-traditional students give necessary support for parents returning to school. Additionally, there is one outstanding benefit that most students don’t realize when they are signing admissions papers.  Once entering the world of higher education, people are likely to live seven years longer than less educated peers. According to a Harvard study:

Research for a 25 year old Life expectancy for people with a high school diploma or less: Life expectancy for people with any college:
1990 75 years 80 years
2000 75 years 80 years


Not only will scholars live longer, but the life expectancy gap is widening between the more and less educated. College degrees are rare, but the benefits reach far beyond our grasp. Our educational landscape is morphing; the diversity accompanying this change demands successful infrastructure for minorities and non-traditional students. A better life and a longer life – the road to success just may be paved with textbooks.

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