Trends in education
by Perry Chang
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has long had a highly educated membership, but the educational gap between Presbyterians and the U.S. population has shrunk somewhat over time. The percentage of members 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree (66 percent) is still more than double that of the same age group of the U.S. population (30 percent)—down from nearly triple in the 1980s.
One factor in the decreasing educational disparity is the growing level of educational achievement among all Americans. Another factor is the older ages of many PC(USA) members relative to the general population.
The high educational level among Presbyterians could benefit the PC(USA) as the educational level of the general population grows. Our research indicates that new members often look a lot like those who already belong, in terms of demographic characteristics. Furthermore, other research has shown that, in general, people with more years of schooling attend worship with greater frequency.
How do we reach out to less-educated Americans? One strategy is developing new worshiping communities that are particularly welcoming to this group. Another approach relies on educational diversity in existing congregations. Despite the high overall average, there are many PC(USA) congregations—as many as two in five—in which the majority of members have less than a college education.
God willing, Americans of all educational backgrounds will be able to find a PC(USA) worshiping community whose style, program and theology fit their spiritual needs.
Perry Chang is associate for survey research in the Research Services office of the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).