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Blacks cut graduation rate gap

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More women than men are completing college and young blacks are nearly equaling the high school graduation rate of whites, says a new Census Bureau report.

Some 86.2 percent of blacks aged 25 to 29 were high school graduates last year, as were 87.6 percent of whites, said the study, "Educational Attainment in the United States, March 1997," released this week."The educational attainment of young African-Americans indicates a dramatic improvement by groups who historically have been less educated," Census population specialist Jennifer Day said.

In higher education, 29.3 percent of women and 26.3 percent of men in the 25-29 age group had completed four years or more of college as of last year. That was up from 28.2 percent for women and 26.1 percent for men in 1996.

Men traditionally have been more likely to have completed college, but women have been edging steadily upward in recent years as they increasingly seek careers and recognize the economic value of education, Day said. Before 1985 men had held the lead consistently.

Young women also led men in completing high school, 88.9 percent to 85.8 percent. For the total 1997 population age 25 and over, men still held a lead in college completion, 26 percent to 22 percent. For high school both were at 82 percent.

The Hispanic population also has experienced educational gains, but it remains far behind other groups. The proportion aged 25 to 29 who were high school graduates rose from 51 percent in 1987 to 55 percent in 1997, while the share with some college education jumped from 22 percent to 29 percent.

Blacks have continued trending upward in educational achievement since 1940, Day said.

In 1940, just 12.3 percent of blacks aged 25 to 29 had finished high school, compared with 41.2 percent of whites. By 1965, 50.3 percent of that age group were graduates, compared with 72.8 percent of whites.

Other studies have shown much higher high school dropout rates for black pupils. The Census study's older age group, however, reflects other findings that many black dropouts attain high school diplomas or an equivalent later.

Other findings of the report:

- Alaska and Wyoming were the only states where high-school graduation rates topped 90 percent.

- About one in three residents of the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Maryland had a bachelor's degree or higher.

- Average 1996 earnings for people 18 and over, by educational attainment, were: Didn't finish high school, $15,011; high school graduate, $22,154; bachelor's degree, $38,112; higher degree, $61,317.