Increasing Number of Rhode Islanders Attaining Four-Year College Degrees

Rhode Island experienced an almost 4% rise in bachelor’s degrees in 2022, according to recent data from a higher education foundation. The data, gathered by the Lumina Foundation, shows that Rhode Island has seen consistent growth in bachelor’s degrees over the past few years. Unlike other states, Rhode Island’s increase in degrees is not due to more people receiving certificates or certifications, but rather an increase in bachelor’s degrees.

The Lumina Foundation focuses on postsecondary attainments, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, and other certifications or certificates. The foundation has been tracking state-led goals for attainment since 2009, with a nationwide goal of 60% attainment by 2025.

Currently, Rhode Island’s overall attainment rate is 56.7%, still short of the 70% goal proposed in 2017. The state now aims to achieve 70% postsecondary attainment by 2030, according to Shannon Gilkey, the state’s commissioner of postsecondary education.

Bachelor’s degrees in Rhode Island have seen a significant increase, particularly among individuals aged 25 to 34. The percentage of this demographic holding baccalaureates rose from 23.7% in 2017 to 32.5% in 2022. This rise can be attributed to practical policies implemented years ago to support access and completion of bachelor’s degrees.

The reasons behind this increase are not immediately clear, but it is believed that structural changes in the higher education system may have played a role. The Lumina data has sparked interest in understanding what factors have contributed to this attainment goal and progress.

One possible factor could be the establishment of the Promise scholarship in 2017, which has provided tuition-free access to the Community College of Rhode Island. This has made pursuing a four-year degree more affordable for students who choose to transfer from a two-year degree program.

Rhode Island’s progress in postsecondary education is commendable, but there are still disparities in access and race. Black attainment population shows a slight decline, which raises questions about possible migration patterns among Black Americans in Rhode Island. Meanwhile, the Hispanic population’s attainment has increased during the same period.

Several states, including Utah, Colorado, and Massachusetts, have already achieved the 60% goal. Washington, D.C. has the highest postsecondary credential attainment rate, with 75.4% of its population holding a credential.

While the numbers indicate progress, education after high school is about more than just earning degrees. It is about equipping individuals with the skills and qualifications needed for a successful career and quality of life. The Lumina Foundation’s report, “A Stronger Nation,” provides a comprehensive look at nationwide results, including Rhode Island.