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Educational Attainment Trends in the Fourth District

Research in regional economic development has documented a strong link between the education levels of an area’s workforce and its economic performance. The percentage of adults (over 25) with a college degree—the most commonly used indicator of skills in a workforce—has been linked to income growth, employment growth, and productivity. I analyze recent trends in the education levels of working age adults in Fourth District metro areas and find that these areas are adding graduates at a respectable pace. In the coming decade, we can expect the rate of workers with a college degree to continue to rise in the larger metro areas, as older workers with fewer degrees retire and younger workers enter the workforce.

Using data from the 2000 Census and the 2008 American Community Survey, I calculate the percentage of working age adults living in the Fourth District metro areas who hold a college degree and the change in that percentage between 2000 and 2008. (I excluded people under 25 and people over 64 who are neither working nor seeking work. Presumably, the latter category consists of people who are retired.) Erie, Akron, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Lexington, Mansfield, and Youngstown all posted impressive increases of over 4 percentage points in their shares of workers with degrees. The national increase in these same data was 3.1 points.

Educational Attainment of Working-age Adults in Fourth District Metro Areas

Working-age adults (2008) Degree share 2000 (percent) Degree share 2008 (percent) Change (percent)
Erie 151,718 22.5 28.2 5.6
Akron 386,990 26.1 31.6 5.4
Pittsburgh 1,235,251 28.1 32.7 4.6
Columbus 896,440 32.3 36.9 4.5
Lexington-Fayette 161,486 37.1 41.5 4.4
Mansfield 67,839 13.1 17.4 4.3
Youngstown-Warren 306,892 17.5 21.7 4.2
Cleveland 1,223,369 26.0 29.2 3.2
Cincinnati 863,150 28.6 31.7 3.1
United States 167,282,883 26.5 29.6 3.1
Canton 226,427 19.1 20.8 1.8
Lima 80,257 14.9 16.6 1.7
Hamilton-Middleton 195,416 25.9 27.4 1.5
Dayton-Springfield 508,775 24.4 25.8 1.3
Toledoa 419,227 21.6 22.9 1.3
  • a. Due to a definition inconsistency in the data, figures from the Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder are used for Toledo.
  • Sources: Author’s calculations from the 2000 Census and the 2008 American Community Survey.

Next, I looked at the six largest metro areas in the Fourth District in terms of whether their graduates and nongraduates were native to the state (“natives”) or whether they had moved in from another U.S. state (“migrants”) or outside the country (“immigrants”). Across the board, every metro area has more native college graduates in 2008 than it had in 2000. Cincinnati and Columbus have 29 percent and 27 percent more native graduates, respectively. Pittsburgh added 17 percent and Cleveland added 15 percent to their native graduate counts over the period. Gains among the immigrant graduate populations were also substantial. Cleveland-Akron and Columbus both had over 13,000 more immigrant graduates in 2008 than they had in 2000. Pittsburgh added approximately 9,600 immigrant graduates. However, in terms of attracting interstate migrant college graduates, all of the large Fourth District metro areas lag the national average, with the exception of Columbus. The national average in this category is 11.9 percent of the workforce. In Cleveland, the figure is 7.7 percent and in Pittsburgh, it is 6.8 percent.

In the numbers of nongraduates, there were a few notable changes. Columbus and Cincinnati both experienced large increases in their populations of unskilled immigrants. In Columbus, the nondegreed immigrant adult population increased from just under 30,000 to over 46,000, and the equivalent population in Cincinnati increased from 19,700 to 29,600. In the Cleveland area, the number of nongraduate migrants declined by 22 percent. Breaking the data down by age reveals that the older cohorts in Cleveland contain large numbers of nondegreed interstate migrants. They could represent the last influx of people who sought industrial jobs before manufacturing employment began declining. The decrease in nondegreed migrant workers reflects many of them reaching retirement age.

One of the primary trends driving the increase in educational attainment nationwide is the phasing in of more educated cohorts. Because the workers who are now retiring and leaving the workforce—those born in the early 1940s—had lower levels of college attainment, the college degree share of the entire workforce will continue to rise for a couple decades even if attainment among new cohorts is stagnant. The figure below shows these trends are affecting the Fourth District metro areas. (The sample size within a single year’s cohorts is small, so I have created five-year moving averages.)

Columbus has the most educated cohorts generally. Across the country, state capitals often have unusually high educational attainment. This is especially true if they are home to a large state university, as is Columbus. The Pittsburgh trend is remarkable. Among older Pittsburgh residents, education levels are below the national average, like those of Cincinnati and Cleveland. For residents younger than 40, however, degree attainment jumps up to the levels of Columbus. If the highly educated cohorts in Pittsburgh continue to phase in, the city will eventually have a workforce like a university town rather than a former industrial center. Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Toledo can also anticipate modestly rising education levels based on cohort replacement. The education levels in the Dayton and Youngstown areas are essentially the same across the age cohorts, so these areas may not experience any rise due to the phasing in of more educated young people.

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