Clear and reliable data are a prerequisite for defining meaningful goals for levels of postsecondary educational attainment and assessing progress toward those goals. Determining whether the number of Americans with college credentials is sufficient to meet the needs of the labor market, understanding gaps in attainment across demographic groups, and evaluating the success of people with different characteristics and in different circumstances in meeting their educational goals all depend on gathering and interpreting appropriate information.
Numerous data sources—most but not all from the federal government—provide valuable information on educational attainment. However, differences in the populations included, the methodologies for collecting the data, and the definitions underlying the categories reported frequently lead to inconsistent findings. This report synthesizes data from multiple sources, clarifies ambiguities, and uses the data to answer key questions about the levels of education among Americans. The questions addressed here are examples of the many that could be answered more accurately with easier access to and better understanding of the available data.