Thursday, September 27th, 2012

A Look at Educational Attainment

Finishing up my look at the 2011 ACS data release, I’ll take a quick check on educational attainment. Just as another brief plug, I’d encourage you to check out and buy a subscription to my Telestrian system that enables anyone to do analysis like this in next to no time.

Here’s a map of college degree attainment (adults 25+ with a bachelors degree or higher) as of 2011:

The top ten large metros for college degree attainment are:


Rank Metro Area 2011
1 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 1,841,021 (48.0%)
2 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 565,386 (45.1%)
3 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 1,354,051 (43.9%)
4 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 1,352,949 (43.1%)
5 Raleigh-Cary, NC 311,789 (41.3%)
6 Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 460,526 (40.6%)
7 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 846,443 (38.5%)
8 Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 666,809 (38.4%)
9 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 885,288 (37.1%)
10 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 4,691,735 (36.2%)

Washington has been at the top of this list for a while, which is very interesting. It’s a government center that nevertheless managed to accumulate a higher percentage of college degreed residents than even America’s most elite innovation hubs. If you look at total population with degrees, it unsurprisingly basically follows total population. But Washington is so educated, it is actually closing in on Chicago on that metric. Chicago, a much larger metro, only has 16% more college grads than Washington.

Here’s a look at the top ten metros for growth in educational attainment percentage since 2000. Note that because of the ACS margin of error, this list shows a lot of variety year to year. I would not read too much into it.


Row Geography 2000 2011 Change in % of Total Adult (25+) Population
1 Baltimore-Towson, MD 493,842 (29.2%) 660,022 (35.8%) 6.64%
2 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 1,094,850 (37.0%) 1,352,949 (43.1%) 6.10%
3 Pittsburgh, PA 396,981 (23.4%) 492,369 (29.4%) 5.94%
4 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 3,707,827 (30.3%) 4,691,735 (36.2%) 5.93%
5 St. Louis, MO-IL 435,940 (24.8%) 581,655 (30.7%) 5.87%
6 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 182,144 (23.2%) 225,499 (29.0%) 5.81%
7 Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA 248,934 (23.7%) 319,746 (29.4%) 5.73%
8 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 1,347,618 (42.5%) 1,841,021 (48.0%) 5.55%
9 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 362,687 (28.8%) 526,399 (34.2%) 5.43%
10 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 244,104 (28.0%) 391,173 (33.3%) 5.31%

Here’s a look at degree attainment if we restrict it only to professional and graduate degrees:


Row Geography 2011
1 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 877,323 (22.9%)
2 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 248,790 (19.9%)
3 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 596,679 (19.0%)
4 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 535,173 (17.4%)
5 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 127,786 (15.4%)
6 Baltimore-Towson, MD 278,836 (15.1%)
7 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 1,924,454 (14.9%)
8 Raleigh-Cary, NC 108,593 (14.4%)
9 Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 161,118 (14.2%)
10 Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 236,259 (13.6%)

Again our friends in Washington top the list. On this list of the most educated, Washington actually has more total people with college and professional degrees than Chicago, and is within about 30,000 people compared to Los Angeles. I expect Washington to end up passing LA on this measure, though in fairness part of the greater LA area has been carved off into its own separate metro area.

New York has so many people with graduate and professional degrees that they would add up to America’s 31st largest metro area in their own right. It is actually more people than the entire population of the San Jose metro area. It’s more than double the concentration of #2 Los Angeles.

Looking at growth in the share of population with graduate degrees since 2000, here are the results:


Row Geography 2000 2011 Change in % of Total Adult (25+) Population
1 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 607,122 (19.1%) 877,323 (22.9%) 3.75%
2 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 184,688 (16.1%) 248,790 (19.9%) 3.72%
3 Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 455,971 (15.4%) 596,679 (19.0%) 3.60%
4 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 74,319 (9.5%) 99,962 (12.9%) 3.40%
5 Baltimore-Towson, MD 201,072 (11.9%) 278,836 (15.1%) 3.25%
6 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 120,885 (9.6%) 196,582 (12.8%) 3.18%
7 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 96,943 (12.5%) 127,786 (15.4%) 2.91%
8 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 215,974 (10.7%) 323,798 (13.6%) 2.88%
9 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 413,433 (14.5%) 535,173 (17.4%) 2.84%
10 St. Louis, MO-IL 158,331 (9.0%) 224,687 (11.9%) 2.84%

8 Comments
Topics: Demographic Analysis, Education

8 Responses to “A Look at Educational Attainment”

  1. Lynn Stevens says:

    With the comparisons to Chicago, would you share the Chicago numbers since we’re sadly not on any of the lists.

  2. Brett says:

    It seems like you might want to add a segment to your state of Chicago series about education and educational attainment. Is there something the Chicago region should be doing to increase it’s level of educational attainment? Or is it a sort of chicken and egg problem? For instance, I assume that most of DCs educational attainment is coming through college-educated people moving to that area. Can a metro grow its educational attainment by educating its existing population or by increasing the attractiveness of the region to get people to move there? Is it a combination of factors?

    I assume this is just looking at 4 years degrees or graduate degrees. What about the community college population and technical schools graduates?

  3. the urban politician says:

    St Louis & Buffalo are performing interestingly well

  4. DaveOf Richmond says:

    Brett, Atlantic Cities had an article about your question recently, focusing on Portland, but they ask the same question about “making” or “buying” the college educated:
    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/09/portland-really-where-young-people-go-retire/3316/

    Tup, I found the Buffalo and St Louis thing interesting also. St Louis has struck me as a city with a lot of potential that it never seems to reach, perhaps this is a sign that things are moving in the right direction for them there, assuming the numbers are accurate.

  5. Matthew Hall says:

    St. Louis already reached its potential…100 years ago. That is the problem. Reinventing yourself in harder than inventing yourself in the first place.

  6. Tory says:

    Not a fan of ranking this by percentage. Rewards cities with very restrictive land use that drive up costs and out lower education jobs, industries, and people. If Houston shut down its gigantic port, or all the oil and gas mfg, it would improve in the rankings. How much sense does that make? Absolute numbers are more interesting. Sheer size of the talent pool.

  7. SmartBurgher says:

    It would be interesting to see how Pittsburgh stacks up versus these other metros if you looked only at working-age population… say degrees amongst those aged 25-65. The Pittsburgh region still has an oversized elderly population due to the steel collapse and resultant demographic distortions in the 80s. The elderly population had very low college degree rates due to the dominance of heavy manufacturing production jobs. So Pittsburgh’s numbers are skewed downward due to a uniquely large elderly “post-working” population that is one of the least college-educated of any major region.

  8. Chris Barnett says:

    It would be interesting to see a combined map of MHI and ed attainment in a 4-color scheme (corresponding to a four-quadrant scatter-plot), over the last 40 years. This would help tie together the book review with the ACS posts.

    It might help move past correlation to some understanding of various causes and effects.

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