December 22, 2000

Bay area residents most educated in U.S.

Census finds California Hispanics lag

By Erin McCormick, Tom Zoellner
The San Francisco Chronicle

December 19, 2000 - At a time when Americans are becoming more and more educated, Bay Area residents lead the nation in chalking up college degrees, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers being released today.

Yet California as a whole has a high number of residents who have never completed high school — particularly in the Hispanic population, according to the study of education levels.

"There is a large education gap in California, primarily because of immigration," said Deborah Reed, a research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California.

The study showed that the San Jose metropolitan area ranked first in the nation in the percentage of adults over age 25 with a college degree, at 42 percent, with San Francisco fourth and Oakland eighth.

The study, based on the Census Bureau's annual survey of 50,000 U.S. households, confirmed what generations of parents have told their children: "If you're interested in making money, you need an education," said Eric Newburger, a statistician with the bureau.

Nationally, adults who had only high school diplomas earned an average of $24,572 a year, and college graduates averaged $45,678.

Newburger, who was co-author of the study, noted that U.S. education levels have been slowly rising for decades. In 2000, 26 percent of the national population age 25 and older held a bachelor's degree, up from 14 percent in 1975.

California is a bit above the national average in college education. But when it comes to adults who have graduated from high school, it ranks 43rd in the country.

The study estimated that 19 percent of the state's adults lack high school diplomas, putting California on a level with bottom-ranking states like Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.

Some education experts said the state's low level of education financing contributes to this poor showing.

"There's a tremendous gulf between the quality of our postsecondary institutions and the dismal state of our K-12 system," said Anne MacLachlan, a senior researcher at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley. "In a state as rich as this, there is no excuse. We need more and better teachers."

But the biggest reason for California's showing, some experts said, is that many immigrants move here as adults with little education and no intention of completing high school.

While the high school completion rates among blacks and whites in California are around 90 percent, nearly half of adult Hispanics in the state never finished the 12th grade, the study estimated.

Reed said her research indicates that 78 percent of adult Hispanics native to the United States have high school degrees, compared with 39 percent of those who immigrated.

"We need to be thinking about adult education strategies, because non- native-born residents come to the country as adults and almost never go through the K-12 system," Reed said. "That education gap translates into an income gap, . . . and it becomes harder to provide a level playing field."

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