According to a new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, ninety-one of the one hundred largest U.S. metropolitan areas experienced a significant increase in the share of young adults enrolled in higher education between 2000 and 2008. Some of the most considerable increases occurred in the older, industrial metro areas of the Northwest and Midwest, which, according to the State of Metropolitan America: On the Front Lines of Demographic Transformation, could indicate that young people in these struggling economies are becoming increasingly aware of the need for a postsecondary degree to succeed in the labor market.
The State of Metropolitan America looks at the major demographic milestones that America has experienced over the last decade. Through the context of this evolving landscape, the report discusses several topical areas, including population and migration, race and ethnicity, immigration, age, households and families, educational attainment, work, income and poverty, and commuting.
“All of these trends, and this is our particular lens, are accentuated in the nation’s hundred largest metropolitan areas,” said Alan Berube, writer of the report’s educational attainment section and senior fellow and research director at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. “The trends are more intense, at a greater scale, at a greater pace, because of who lives in these places and the changes that these places are undergoing as well. So if we want to know where the nation is heading over the next ten, twenty years we can look to our metropolitan areas today.”
The study reveals that nationally, 41 percent of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds were enrolled in higher education in 2008, up from 34 percent in 2000. In some areas throughout New England and upstate New York, more than half of young adults were enrolled in 2008. Rapid gains were also particularly notable in a number of older industrial metro areas in the Great Lakes region including Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, and St. Louis, where enrollment numbers jumped 10 percentage points or more. The report postulates that this could be a result of the loss of manufacturing jobs in these areas.
At the same time, the report finds that although Americans are growing more educated as a whole, younger Americans are not making the same level of progress as older Americas. The report suggests that this development could threaten continued upward progress in U.S. living standards.
As shown in the chart to the right, the overall share of U.S. adults with a four-year college degree increased from 24.4 percent to 28 percent between 2000 and 2008. However, in 2008, a lesser share (29 percent) of twenty-five to thirty-four-year-olds held a four-year degree than those ages thirty-five to forty-four (31 percent). This represents a reversal from the trend in 2000 when twenty-five to thirty-four-year-olds had a slightly higher (28 percent) rate of bachelor’s degree attainment than those ages thirty-five to forty-four (26 percent). It is important to note that these gains and losses have also varied widely across different regions of the United States.
At the a secondary school level, the share of adults with at least a high school diploma rose from 75 percent in 1990 to 85 percent in 2008. However, striking differences exist between racial and ethnic groups across the country. For example, in 2008 only 61 percent of Hispanic adults had a high school diploma compared to 90 percent of white adults and 80 percent of black adults. For Hispanics, this represents an 8 percentage point increase in high school diploma attainment rate since 2000; however, in postsecondary attainment rates there has only been a marginal increase (15.6 percent in 2000 to 16.6 percent in 2008).
Across the nation’s one hundred largest metropolitan areas, the educational attainment gap by race and ethnicity is severe. “We are getting more educated but in a very uneven way that’s leaving some of our racial and ethnic minorities behind,” said Berube. Overall, 50 percent of Asian adults and 36 percent of white adults possess college degrees versus 20 percent of blacks and 14 percent of Hispanics. The report points out that in some western metro areas, African Americans register higher degree-earning rates as is the case for Latinos in Midwest, Northeast, and Florida areas.
The report also shows that metro areas such as Boston, New York, San Diego, and San Francisco—areas already known for being highly educated—are getting even smarter and at a rate faster than other regions in the United States. These cities ranked among the top gainers of college graduates in the 2000s. The top ranked highly educated metro area, Washington, DC, stood about thirty-four percentage points above the lowest ranked area, Bakersfield, California. This difference in rankings has shifted from where it was in 1990 when the highest ranked city stood only twenty-six percentage points above the lowest ranked city.
To read more about the State of Metropolitan America: On the Front Lines of Demographic Transformation visithttp://www.brookings.edu/reports/2010/0509_metro_america.aspx.