The average cost of attendance at a four-year college has fallen by around 10% in the past three years, according to a new report released recently on 2023’s Most & Least Educated Cities in America.

Where the Most Educated are Settling

To determine where the most educated Americans are choosing to settle down, WalletHub compared the 150 largest U.S. metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs, across 11 key metrics.

The data set ranges from the share of adults aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher to the racial education gap to the quality of the public school system.

Most Educated Cities Least Educated Cities
1. Ann Arbor, MI141. Salinas, CA
2. San Jose, CA142. Corpus Christi, TX
3. Washington, DC143. Beaumont, TX
4. San Francisco, CA144. Hickory, NC
5. Madison, WI145. Stockton, CA
6. Durham, NC146. Modesto, CA
7. Boston, MA147. Bakersfield, CA
8. Raleigh, NC148. McAllen, TX
9. Seattle, WA149. Brownsville, TX
10. Austin, TX150. Visalia, CA

Key Stats

  • The Ann Arbor, MI, metro area has the highest share of Bachelor’s degree holders aged 25 and older, 57.20 percent, which is 3.8 times higher than in Visalia, CA, the metro area with the lowest at 15.20 percent.
  • The El Paso, TX, metro area has the highest racial education gap, with the share of black Bachelor’s degree holders aged 25 and older at 23.75 percent, compared with 20.78 percent for their white counterparts, a difference of 2.96 percent favoring black people.
  • For comparison, the national average for black people with the same attributes is 15.07 percent, and it is 23.32 percent for their white counterparts.
  • The Anchorage, AK, metro area has the highest gender education gap, with the share of female bachelor’s degree holders aged 25 and older at 23.25 percent, compared with 18.64 percent for their male counterparts, a difference of 4.61 percent favoring women.
  • For comparison, the national average for women with the same attributes is 21.03 percent, and it is 20.12 percent for their male counterparts.

Experts Offer Advice

Should local authorities target policies and programs to attract highly educated people? If so, what works?

“Highly educated people increase labor force productivity, and they invest heavily in the next generation. Because they see the fruits of their knowledge and skills, highly educated people typically view education as the golden ticket to children’s success. Thus, communities with affordable, high-quality childcare options and quality public schools can better attract highly educated people interested in raising children,” said Molly Martin, associate professor, at Pennsylvania State University.

“A well-educated community is more likely to make good decisions when electing leaders. Those communities tend to have lower crime rates and are less likely to have a variety of health and environmental hazards. In addition, more education leads to higher worker productivity, economic growth, and living standards for the community in general. Greater parental education correlates positively with children’s health, cognitive abilities, and academic achievement. Thus, I would argue that local authorities, especially those in distressed areas, should target policies and programs to attract highly educated people. To attract highly educated individuals, local authorities should encourage job creation for highly educated workers and invest in infrastructure and amenities in their communities. Many state and local governments routinely try to do this: some fail while some turn out to be successful. There is research available regarding the effectiveness of these programs. Local governments should opt for evidence-based policymaking” said Kuzey Yilmaz, associate professor, at Cleveland State University.

Are highly educated cities better able to withstand economic shocks?

“Communities with the highest proportion of adults with a college education also have the highest GDPs. Despite the continued push for more vocational training at U.S. colleges and universities, the true benefit of a college degree is the acquisition of numeracy and language skills, critical thinking, and broad knowledge that helps college graduates adapt to evolving careers, markets, and societal pressures. Thus, communities with a more highly educated population are likely better able to weather economic downturns,” Martin added.

“Yes! A highly educated city is better able to withstand economic shocks because highly educated workers have a good understanding of broad concepts. As their knowledge is not tied to a particular job, they can be more flexible in switching careers down the road. In some cases, these workers can even take jobs that are not at all related to their field of study in college. On the other hand, less educated workers are trained to perform specific tasks for specific occupations, and it might be difficult for them to apply their knowledge to other fields and industries,” Yilmaz said.

What are the top education issues in 2023?

“The first issue is teacher retention. Teachers are leaving the profession at all levels because the U.S. continues to devalue educators and their expertise while increasing bureaucratic requirements. We need to better compensate our educators and respect their authority and experience. A second issue is the privatization of U.S. higher education over the last 50 years. The best predictor of whether a person attends and graduates from college is not their grades or test scores, but their parents’ income. Public colleges and universities have increased tuition rates because state funding has dried up…We need to recognize the societal benefits of a well-educated population and better fund public colleges and universities,” according to Martin.

“In my opinion, the biggest issue is teachers. There is a serious shortage of teachers and substitute teachers across the nation. Even worse, some states have lowered the requirement for substitute teachers to a high school diploma due to the teacher shortage. The quality of teachers has become a serious problem. There should be public conversations about how colleges are preparing our nation’s teachers and how those colleges are recruiting prospective teachers to enter the profession in the first place. Another significant issue is COVID learning loss. As a result of school closures and online education due to COVID, many students are lagging and have moved up to higher grades without learning the material from previous grades. ‘Catching kids up’ will be a big challenge,” Yilmaz said.

To view the full report and your city’s rank, please visit here.

Source: WalletHub