College Gap Grows, Leaving Manufacturing Cities Behind

Tim Goral's picture
Thursday, May 31, 2012

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.

Just 24 percent of the adult residents of metropolitan Dayton have four-year degrees, well below the average of 32 percent for American metro areas, and about half the rate of Washington, the country’s most educated metro area, according to a Brookings Institution analysis. Like many Rust Belt cities, it is a captive of its rich manufacturing past, when well-paying jobs were plentiful and landing one without a college degree was easy.

Educational attainment lagged as a result, even as it became more critical to success in the national economy. “We were so wealthy for so long that we got complacent,” said Jane L. Dockery, associate director of the Center for Urban and Public Affairs at Wright State University here. “We saw the writing on the wall, but we didn’t act.”

Dayton sits on one side of a growing divide among American cities, in which a small number of metro areas vacuum up a large number of college graduates, and the rest struggle to keep those they have.

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