In this paper, we analyze the completed highest education degree of two birth cohorts (1934-1943 and 1964-1973) in Switzerland, using data from the 1999 wave of the Swiss Household Panel. As expected, the fraction of tertiary graduates has increased over time, for women more so than for men. Also, the educational attainment depends strongly on the educational attainment of parents. We then decompose the overall trend into a parental background effect, a general expansion effect and a distribution effect. For women in particular, we find that a substantial fraction of the overall increase in participation in tertiary education can be explained by the fact that the gap in participation rates between women with lowly educated parents and women with highly educated parents has narrowed. We then investigate the role of financial constraints in explaining these trends. Although the number of individuals suffering financial hardship during youth has declined over time, logit models show that financial problems have become more important as an impediment for higher education.