Educational Attainment

How are we doing?

Four-Year College Attainment Rate (2016)

The four-year college attainment rate in the Tucson Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was near the middle of the pack in 2016, compared to 12 western MSAs. The share of the population age 25 and older, with a Bachelor’s degree or more, was 30.8% in Tucson. That was far below the Austin MSA, which ranked first at 42.0%, but was well above the El Paso MSA, which ranked last at 21.6%. The presence of the University of Arizona boosts the share of residents with a graduate or professional degree in Tucson, compared to the U.S.

Why is it important?

Educational attainment is one critical driver of long-run income, job, and population growth for nations, states, and local areas. More broadly, regions with higher concentrations of highly educated residents tend to perform better across many socioeconomic indicators, including the crime rate, poverty, productivity, unemployment, and others. In addition, less educated residents also tend to earn higher wages in regions with a larger concentration of college graduates.

How do we compare?

In 2016, the Tucson MSA had a relatively small share of residents who reported a high school degree as their highest education level (22.6%) when compared to the U.S. (27.5%). In contrast, Tucson posted a relatively large share of residents with some college education, but no degree (25.8%) when compared to the nation as a whole (21.0%). Further, Tucson had a large share of residents with a graduate or professional degree, at 13.0%, compared to 11.5 % for the U.S. In part, this reflects the presence of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Educational attainment rates vary significantly by race and ethnicity. College attainment rates were highest in 2016 for Asian residents of Tucson, the state of Arizona, and the U.S., while rates tended to be lowest for American Indians, Hispanics, and other races. The college attainment rate for Hispanic residents in the Tucson area was 14.4% in 2016, which was above the Arizona rate and close to the national rate of 14.7%. However, the college attainment rate for Hispanics in Tucson was far below the rate for non-Hispanics at 37.7%.

College attainment rates also vary strongly across age groups. In 2016, the share of residents with a Bachelor’s degree or more in the Tucson MSA was highest for the 65-and-older age group, at 34.0%, which was well above the college attainment rate for the 25-34 age group, at 27.0%. Further, the college attainment rate for young Tucson-area residents (ages 25-34 and 35-44) was below the national average in 2016, while for older age groups, Tucson college attainment rates were higher than the national average. In part, this reflects retiree migration to Tucson, which has favored more highly educated individuals.

What are the key trends?

The Tucson MSA college attainment rate has increased since 2000, but the pace of growth was relatively slow. Tucson’s college attainment rate rose from 26.7% in 2000, to 30.8% in 2016, an increase of 15.4%. That was slower than the pace set by Arizona (19.1%) and the U.S. (24.2%).

How is it measured?

Educational attainment reflects the share of the population age 25 and older with a given level of education. Respondents report the highest level of education completed. The data come from five-year estimates for 2009 and 2016 from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). Note that the ACS five-year estimates are produced over a five year time period and can only be compared to non-overlapping five-year estimates (for example: 2005-2009 and 2010-2014). Data for 2000 are drawn from the 2000 Census Summary File 3.