Lancaster’s Improving Educational Attainment Profile

More Lancaster County adults have college degrees than ever, matching a trend taking place throughout Pennsylvania and the United States.

Current data (the period 2012 – 2016) shows that Lancaster has a greater share of Associate’s Degree holders (+1.3%), Bachelor’s Degree holders (+1.1%), and Master’s Degree holders (+1.4%) than in 2009, as Figure 1 shows. Shares of adults who have not completed high school, or who have only a high school diploma or GED have declined over this same period by -2.7% and -1.7% respectively.

Figure 1:

Lancaster degree holders

Unfortunately, Lancaster’s educational attainment profile is not advancing as quickly as it is for the state overall.  State educational growth shows particularly fast improvement in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia metro areas.

While Lancaster’s education gains have been less rapid than those parts of the state, its education profile has been improving faster than some neighboring counties. The share of Bachelor’s degree holders in Lancaster is higher overall than in Berks, Lebanon, and York Counties, and it has also been increasing faster in Lancaster than in these neighboring areas.1

Still, the most important fact shown by these data is that educational attainment is improving throughout Pennsylvania. Though urban and suburban areas are leading the trend, 66 of 67 Pennsylvania counties show an increase in the share of adults with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher over the prior decade. Furthermore, the share of Bachelor’s Degree holders is growing faster in Pennsylvania (+3.4%) than in the United States (+2.8%).

Economic development professionals often talk about the number of citizens with post-secondary credentials as one indicator of a community’s ability to attract and support high-wage jobs.  These trends augur positively for the state’s, and Lancaster County’s, potential for economic growth.

If you are interested in exploring education trends in Lancaster and Pennsylvania in more detail, please visit the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Prosperity Indicators web portal. Data for all Pennsylvania counties are available to view or download.


Evan Gentry

Research Specialist, Floyd Institute for Public Policy

Franklin & Marshall College


Berwood Yost

Director, Floyd Institute for Public Policy and Center for Opinion Research

Franklin & Marshall College


Table: Share of Population Ages 25+ with a Bachelor’s Degree or Higher

PA MSA education table

Data source: U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates


1 Prior research has found that the educational attainment statistics in Lancaster are affected by the presence of the Amish, who typically do not attend high school, and therefore increase the share of persons without a high school diploma in Lancaster County. This effect should be noted when comparing overall educational attainment levels in Lancaster to those of other areas. However, comparisons of education trends over time are less sensitive to this concern because this changes are driven by shifts of the overall population, and the Amish are present in all time periods in Lancaster. While it is true that changes in the Amish share of Lancaster’s population could affect the County’s educational attainment statistics over time, it is unlikely that such changes would be the primary driver of education trends here. The subject, however, is worthy of further research.