Caution to Cities: Don’t Overly Focus on Increasing Degree Share

Lots of people who care about cities have focused their energy on helping cities attract college graduates, as the college degree share of a region is highly correlated with how successful it is economically.

This report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland cautions that  “too narrow a focus on the graduates can lead to misguided policies”

It continues:

“It is a summary statistic that can change for many reasons. One metro area could have a fast-rising share because it has a lot of universities graduating local students or attracting high-skilled immigrants. Another area might achieve a rising share by losing unskilled workers when its low-skill industry declines. To understand the factors that have shaped the degree share, we need to dig behind the summary statistic and examine what is happening to both the graduate and nongraduate populations.”

What do you think?

The Fed report concludes:

“Some metro areas that appear to be highly successful at raising their college degree share are really just keeping pace with the national growth in college graduates while not offering an attractive standard of living to adults without college degrees. It may not be politically desirable, or even possible, for other metro areas to copy their ‘success.’ Likewise, there are metro areas that are gathering massive workforces of college graduates, but they receive less attention from regional development experts because strong in-migration of nongraduates keeps the college degree share at a modest level.

The point to take away from this analysis is that the growth in the nondegree population has to be taken into consideration when the divergence of education levels is discussed. Educating students, retaining graduates, and attracting migrant graduates all matter, but retaining or attracting nongraduates also matters. The populations of adults without college degrees are not static or immobile. Looking at growth relative to a historical baseline refocuses our attention on the majority of the workforce that does not hold an undergraduate degree. Understanding how they impact “smart places getting smarter” is an important step toward deriving useful policy recommendations from this phenomenon.”


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Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Good Ideas

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