Linda F. Benedict, Schafer, Mark J.
Mark J. Schafer and Ashley Perry
For an individual, educational attainment refers to the highest level of education attained. For cities, parishes and states, aggregate educational attainment of the adult population (or labor force) can place them at a comparative advantage or disadvantage in attracting industries. All agree on the need to increase high school completion rates either by reducing dropouts or increasing opportunities for adults to get a high school equivalency like the GED. Because a sizeable proportion of relatively good jobs in Louisiana do not necessarily require a college degree, industry leaders and educators continue to debate the merits of policies aimed at increasing college graduation rates.
To gauge statewide trends in educational attainment in Louisiana, LSU AgCenter researchers compiled data at the parish level from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. census section on Population and Housing Summary File 4, which includes level of education obtained for all races and ethnic groups. This study is limited to members of the population aged 25 and over. The 2010 data are a five-year compilation of information from the American Community Survey (ACS) from 2005-2009 because the 2010 census did not include a long form. Both the 2000 and 2010 data were available from the Census Bureau's American FactFinder website, but because only the most recent census data are there, the data for 1990 were downloaded from the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research, which retains data from previous years' census collections.
The percentage of high school dropouts declined from over 30 percent in 1990 to less than 20 percent (Figure 1). Further, the decline started in the 1990s and continued through the 2000s at about the same pace. The percentage of high school and college graduates increased steadily over the same period. The percentage of high school graduates went from 52 percent to 60 percent, and the college graduates went from 16 percent to 21 percent.
These are positive statewide trends. In comparison to other states, Louisiana is below average with higher proportions with less than high school (19 percent in 2005-2009 in Louisiana versus a national average of around 16 percent) and a smaller proportion of college graduates (21 percent in Louisiana versus about 28 percent nationally). Nonetheless, Louisiana’s rate of improvement with lower proportions with less than high school completion and higher proportions with a bachelor’s degree is consistent with national trends.
Parish Trends in High School Completion Since 1990
In 1990, Louisiana parishes had a mean high school completion rate of about 63 percent, which increased to about 70 percent in 2000 and 73 percent by 2005-2009 – a significant improvement. The averages mask some significant differences, however. Ten parishes, mostly rural, had high school completion rates below 55 percent in 1990. In two parishes, East Carroll and De Soto, less than half of all adults residing there in 1990 had completed high school. By contrast, more than 80 percent of the adult population in Concordia Parish had at least a high school diploma or equivalent in 1990. By 2005-2009, Allen Parish was the only parish with a high school completion rate under 60 percent, and five parishes – Ascension, Beauregard, Caldwell, Evangeline and Terrebonne – had high school completion rates of well over 85 percent.
From 1990 to 2000, 20 parishes saw declines in high school completion rates while 44 parishes saw improvements. Of those whose completion rates declined, Assumption, Concordia, St. Martin and West Feliciana parishes saw the largest reductions in rates among all adults. By contrast, Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Lincoln and St. Tammany parishes saw the largest gains in the 1990s.
In the 2000s, the five parishes that saw the largest increases in high school completion rates were Caldwell, Catahoula, Evangeline, Terrebonne and West Feliciana – all of which saw more than 20-percentage-point improvements. On the negative side, Bossier and St. Tammany parishes saw more than 10-percentage-point declines in their high school completion rates. Bossier Parish rates fell from 83 percent in 2000 to 68 percent in 2005-2009, while St. Tammany Parish rates fell from 84 percent to 73 percent during the same time period.
High school completion rates in Louisiana also vary widely by race and gender (Table 1). In 2005-2009, the mean female high school attainment rate for all 64 parishes was higher than the mean rate for males. This female advantage is particularly true for Latinos, where the rate for females (73 percent) is 12 percentage points higher than for males (61 percent). However, the relationship between gender and educational attainment is reversed for Asians, where the mean graduation rates are higher for males (81 percent) than for females (73 percent).
Parishes differ widely in their high school completion rates when race and gender are taken into consideration. The Latina Female category provides the most striking comparisons, where 94 percent of Latina Females in Caddo Parish versus only 13 percent of Latina Females in East Feliciana Parish have a high school diploma or equivalency.
The state and parish-level trends and comparisons described serve to make three broad points:
(1) Louisiana’s educational attainment levels have steadily improved over the past two decades;
(2) the improvement has occurred unequally among parishes in the state;
(3) significant gender and race differences in educational attainment continue in Louisiana.
Mark J. Schafer is an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, and Ashley Perry is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology.