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Cities attract college grads

College-educated job seekers are increasingly moving to big cities, but some urban centers in the North are left behind.

Published April 10, 2006

WASHINGTON - College graduates are flocking to America's big cities, chasing jobs and culture and driving up home prices.

Though many of the largest cities have lost population in the past three decades, nearly all have added college graduates, the Associated Press found.

The findings offer hope for urban areas, many of which have spent decades struggling with financial problems, job losses and high poverty rates.

But they also spell trouble for some cities, especially those in the Northeast and Midwest, that have fallen behind the South and West in attracting highly educated workers.

Among the 70 largest U.S. cities, Tampa ranks 27th and St. Petersburg 37th based on the percentage of residents 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree. That ranking puts the Tampa Bay area in the middle of the pack of educated cities, but in a stronger position than many Northern cities that are losing their best and brightest to Sunbelt opportunities.

"The largest predictor of economic well-being in cities is the percent of college graduates," said Ned Hill, professor of economic development at Cleveland State University. To do well, he said, cities must be attractive to educated people.

Nationally, a little more than one-fourth of people 25 or older had at least bachelor's degrees in 2004. That compares with 30 percent in Tampa and 27 percent in St. Petersburg, the AP analysis found.

About 84 percent nationwide had high school diplomas or the equivalent, vs. 81 percent in Tampa and 86 percent in St. Petersburg.

By comparison, in 1970 slightly more than one in 10 adults nationally had bachelor's degrees and about half had high school diplomas.

Seattle was the best-educated city in 2004, with just over half the adults having bachelor's degrees. Following closely were San Francisco; Raleigh, N.C.; Washington; and Austin, Texas.

The AP analyzed census data from 21 of the largest cities from 1970 to 2004. The AP used every-10-year census data from 1970 to 2000 and the Census Bureau's American Community Survey for 2004.

The 21 cities were chosen because of their size and location to provide regional balance. The analysis was expanded for 2004, the latest year for data, to include all 70 cities with populations of 250,000 or more.

While most states in the Northeast have high percentages of college graduates, their big cities do not.

Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey were among the top five states in the percentage of adults with college degrees in 2004. But the Northeast placed no city among the top five, and only one from the region - Boston - was in the top 20.

Cities with few college graduates have a hard time generating good-paying jobs. That, in turn, makes it hard to attract more college graduates, said Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University.

Cities such as Newark, N.J., Detroit and Cleveland have relatively few college graduates, which helps explain why they are struggling to recover from the decline of U.S. manufacturing, Vedder said.

"Society is paying people more for their brains than for their brawn," Vedder said. "The nerds and the wimps and the geeks are ruling the world."

College graduates made about two-thirds more money than high school graduates in 2004, according to the Census Bureau. The median income - the point at which half make more and half make less - for adults with bachelor's degrees was $42,404. It was $25,360 for high school graduates.

Adults who did not graduate from high school had a median income of $18,144.

Most big cities are strapped with struggling public schools and need to attract outsiders to improve education levels among adults. It's possible, in part because unmarried college graduates are the most mobile demographic group, according to census data.

"Cities have realized that they can attract educated people and they don't need good schools to do it," said Richard Florida, professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the book The Rise of the Creative Class .

But cities need good schools to keep people from fleeing to the suburbs once they become parents, said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Frey pointed to Washington, a city with lagging public schools but impressive education levels among adults.

"D.C. is like a revolving door," Frey said. "These young people move in and then they move out when they want to have kids."



Here is where Tampa, St. Petersburg and other Florida cities rank among the 70 U.S. cities with populations of 250,000 or more based on the percentage of residents 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree:




1. (tie) San Francisco 51 84

1. (tie) Seattle 51 90

3. Raleigh, N.C. 50 91

4. Washington 48 84

5. Austin, Texas 45 84

27. TAMPA 30 81

37. ST. PETERSBURG 27 86

51. Jacksonville 23 89

57. Miami 20 63

NATION 27 84

[Last modified April 10, 2006, 23:21:30]

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