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A high school education doesn't mean what it once did. With more people graduating from high school than ever before, college and even advanced degrees are becoming more important. According to a new Census Bureau report titled Educational Attainment in the United States: 2003, the past decade has seen major shifts in educational attainment across lines of both race and sex.

The report indicates that as of 2003, 85 percent of American adults age 25 had completed high school. The statistical breakdown shows the largest increases among non-Hispanic whites (89 percent) and blacks (80 percent), up 5 percentage points and 10 percentage points respectively over the past 10 years. Hispanics with high school diplomas showed the smallest increase in educational attainment during the decade. Hispanics over 25 years old with high school diplomas rose by 4 percentage points, to 57 percent. The primarily white states of New Hampshire, Minnesota and Wyoming lead the country in the number of adults over 25 who had graduated high school, at about 92 percent. All three states are at least 75 percent white. In addition, in 2003 once again the percentage of adult women who had high school diplomas (85 percent) was higher than men (84 percent).

The report also highlights the increase in the number of women who are earning college degrees. The number of women over the age of 25 with a bachelor's degree has increased 7 percentage points over the past decade, from 19 percent to 26 percent. The number of men with bachelor's degrees also increased as well, but only by 4 percentage points, to 29 percent of the population.

Proportionately more Asians are earning bachelor's degrees than any other race: 50 percent of Asians have a bachelor's. This is in contrast to 30 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 24 percent of blacks.

The level of education attained has a huge impact on earnings potential. Average annual earnings for those with advanced degrees was $72,824 in 2002. This is followed by an average of $51,194 for those with bachelor's degrees, $27,280 for those with high school diplomas and $18,826 for non-graduates. Women's average earnings are still far behind men in nearly every circumstance, with the fairer sex earning an average of $17,000 or 38 percent less than men. In fact, the difference in earnings between high school and college graduates through their working life comes to nearly $1 million. According to a Census Bureau report from 2003, the average high school graduate will make $1.2 million, while the average college graduate will make $2.1 million.

The changing faces of these groups will mean that marketers will be forced to reevaluate strategies and target demographics. If the trends continue, the gap between graduates and non-graduates and ultimately, haves and have-nots will grow even larger as fewer and fewer jobs are available to those without postsecondary degrees.

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