In 1960, more than 40 percent of adult whites were high-school graduates compared to 23 percent of adult blacks. That’s nearly a 20 percent gap.

Now, black and white high-school graduates are nearly the same—87 percent for whites and 83 percent for blacks.

College Graduates

In 1960, only 3.1 percent of adult black Americans graduated from college. Today that number is nearly 20 percent.

Less than one-third of adult Americans hold a college diploma.

The gap between white and black college-graduation rates remains stubbornly high. The gap increased from 1960 to 1990, declined slightly in 2000 and is now rising again.

Minority College Students

The percentage of college students who are minorities has been growing: In 1976, 15 percent of college students were Asian, Black, Latino or Native American. In 2007, that percentage more than doubled to 32 percent.

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Much of the change from 1976 to 2007 was caused by the rising numbers of Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander students. During those 31 years, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 7 percent, and the Hispanic percentage climbed from 4 percent to 11 percent.

The percentage of black students grew from 9 percent in 1976 to 13 percent in 2007.

Smart Black Women

Historically, in the overall population, men were better educated than women. But black Americans are just the opposite. Black women historically have higher high-school and college-graduation rates than black men.

More Education = More Jobs

Roderick Harrison, senior fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said that completing high-school greatly improves one's earnings: High-school graduates ($31,286) earn, on average, one and a half times more than high-school dropouts ($21,484).

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And the average college graduate earns about 80 percent more ($57,181) than a high-school graduate—a difference of more than $750,000 over a 30-year career.

Median Weekly Earnings by Education

Doctoral degree $1,561

Professional degree $1,531

Master's degree $1,233

Bachelor's degree $1,012

Associate’s degree $757

Some college, no degree $699

High-school graduate $618

Less than a high-school diploma $453

Note: Data are 2008 annual averages for persons age 25 and over. Earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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