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Where College Graduates Don't Stay

Sabrina Tavernise has an article in the New York Times about the growing educational divide in American cities. I'm glad that she chose to highlight Dayton, Ohio because I know a ton of people in DC that went to school in Dayton. For that matter, I know more people in DC who went to college in Dayton than any other metro area of a similar size. There is a huge University of Dayton alumni network in DC; and their alumni take a lot of pride in it. But the flip side of it is that all of those grads are no longer living in Dayton.

(from Jordan Weaver on Flickr)

I think Tavernise's opening paragraph is easily misinterpreted.
As cities like this one try to reinvent themselves after losing large swaths of their manufacturing sectors, they are discovering that one of the most critical ingredients for a successful transformation — college graduates — is in perilously short supply. 
But wait, who exactly is in short supply? Is it people graduating from college in that city? Or is it people with college degrees living in that city? The answer is the latter, but the way it's written, it sounds like the former.

One statistic that I wish Tavernise had included in her article, in addition to the percentage of degree holders, is the number of college students currently living and studying in Dayton. The Dayton metro area has a big state university, a large and affordable community college, and a handful of respectable private colleges and universities.

From the 2007-2010 American Community Survey, there are about 78,155 undergraduate, graduate, and community college students in the Dayton metro area. Yet there are only 140,797 degree holders age 25 and older.

To me that's an incredible statistic. If Dayton wants to significantly boost the number of degree holders, it need not spend resources trying to lure people in from other cities - they just need to keep the people who are earning degrees in Dayton to stay in Dayton!  Of course, this isn't happening, as both the numbers and the anecdotes show. The ratio of degree holders to students in Dayton is 1.8-to-1. In DC, by comparison, that ratio is 3.7-to-1.

Or to think of it another way, college students make up 9.2% of the total population in the Dayton metro area. That's more than in the Columbus metro (8.1%) even though Columbus has OSU - the university with the third largest enrollment in America. Columbus is known as being something of a college town; Dayton isn't. The Dayton metro area has more college students than the Ann Arbor metro area (68,014) - another well known "college town".

The bottom line is that Dayton has a very non-negligible number of college students living and graduating there. This is really something that shouldn't be overlooked.

Cities love to tout universities as one of their best assets; and universities can be incredible assets if they can bring people into a city from someplace else and keep them there. If people are going to Dayton to attend college there, or even staying in Dayton rather than attending college elsewhere, that's a highly valuable group of people, who will eventually earn degrees potentially contribute to the local economy. The key is that this only works if they stick around, and in the case of Dayton, they aren't.


Anonymous said…
What are the demographics of education by cohort for Dayton?

Pittsburgh is another huge rust belt college town with 145,000 students in the region in 2001, according to some quick Googling.

It doesn't rank all that high nationally for percentage of college students, but the 25-to-34 cohort is among the most educated in the nation. Generation X and late Boomers are missing from the population, relatively, on account of the steel-based economy exploding around 1980, and the older retiree population has relatively little education, as they mostly worked heavy industrial jobs that didn't require education:

It'll be interesting to Pittsburgh's future, as it has healthy walkable neighborhoods in a traditional urban form with very affordable housing and a highly educated population.
Rob Pitingolo said…
Good question - that sounds like something worth exploring.

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