The number of college-educated people in the Bay Area has grown since the start of the century, according to data from the Bay Area Equity Atlas

Data from the years 2000, 2010 and 2019 show that the percentage of the Bay Area population with a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree or higher has increased. 

Across the nine-county region, 23 percent of people had obtained a bachelor’s degree in 2000 compared to 28 percent in 2019.  

The percent of people with master’s degrees or higher rose from 14 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2019. The trend also holds for each county.

However, there are disparities in educational attainment by county and by race/ethnicity. 

For example, Marin and San Francisco counties had the highest educational attainment over the years, meaning that a higher percentage of their population had obtained college degrees compared to other counties. 

Though educational attainment may be high overall in some areas, it does not mean that everyone in that area is benefitting, according to Veronica Sovero, an economist at San Francisco State University. 

“Part of that could just reflect the fact that the Bay Area has done very well economically so it’s just attracted a very high skilled workforce,” Sovero said, adding that a high educational attainment does not mean that people who grew up in those areas are more likely to obtain a college education. 

“Are the children in these areas benefitting from the fact that there is a highly skilled workforce in the area?” Sovero asked. 

And despite the increasing numbers of degree-holders across the Bay Area, racial and ethnic disparities persist. In 2019, Latino, Native American and Black populations had attained a lower level of education compared to white and Asian populations. 

Sovero noted that low-income students tend to be from underrepresented minority groups and they tend to be first-generation college students. 

Lower-income students also face barriers in getting to college and graduating once there. 

For example, Sovero noted that financial aid is not always enough to support low-income students, especially in the Bay Area where the cost of living is so high.  

Sovero said she has taught many highly motivated, talented students but “they all face this challenge of having to support themselves and possibly their families financially while also trying to go to school full time, so it creates this impossible balance for students.” 

To reduce barriers to college education, Sovero said more funding, improving college readiness, strengthening K through 12 education and providing stronger advising and mentoring in the early college years can help.