WASHINGTON - More than 83 percent of Americans age 25 and older graduated from high school, and over 25 percent have at least a college degree - both record highs according to new Census Bureau statistics.
In March 1999, 83.4 percent of Americans 25 and older had high school diplomas, up from 24.5 percent in 1940, the earliest records available, and 77.6 percent in 1990, Census data being released Friday shows. The percentage of people within the same age group with a bachelor's degree increased to 25.2 percent, from 4.6 percent in 1940 and 21.3 percent 10 years ago.
''Given the very large differences in education between younger and older age groups, the attainment level of the total population will continue to rise for some time as younger, more educated age groups replace older, less educated ones,'' Census analyst Eric Newburger said.
The statistics are in line with other studies done on the country's educational attainment, education advocates said. But while applauding the improvement, they noted that more work needs to be done to in improving education levels for minorities, and especially Hispanics.
By race, 84.3 of whites had a high school degree in 1999, compared with 77.0 percent of blacks and 56.1 percent of Hispanics; 25.9 percent of whites had at least a bachelor's degree in 1999, compared with 15.4 percent of blacks and 10.9 percent of Hispanics.
The disparity is even more pronounced with foreign-born Hispanics, said Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington-based group that has been critical of current bilingual education programs. Forty-four percent of foreign-born Hispanics graduated from high school last year, compared with over 70.0 percent of native-born Hispanics.
Chavez said greater emphasis needs to be placed on higher education on young Hispanics born in the country, and ''more emphasis on delaying entrance in the job market.''
''Hispanics have always had a very high labor force participation,'' she said. ''There are some cultural changes that in the long run need to take place if you are going to have sustained economic progress.''
By state, Alaska had the highest percentage of high school graduates among those 25 and over, 92.8 percent, followed by Washington (91.2 percent). West Virginia (75.1 percent) had the lowest, followed by Mississippi (78.0 percent).
The District of Columbia had the highest percentage of college graduates (42.1 percent), while Arkansas (17.3 percent) had the lowest.
''This is very good news. It's evidence that schools have been working to make changes to help make sure that more students are successful in school,'' said Michael Pons, spokesman for the National Education Association.
''It also shows that we clearly have some work to do and this lets us know where some of those states are.''
Other findings released Friday:
-Adults age 18 and over with a bachelor's degree earned an average of $43,782; those with only a high school diploma earned $23,594.
-Among those ages 25 to 29, almost 90 percent of women and 86 percent of men had high school diplomas in 1999. More young women (30 percent) than men (27 percent) had attained bachelor's degrees.