In a knowledge economy, the educational level of the workforce is a key driver of metropolitan prosperity. Higher education levels, especially in the fields of business, science and the arts, are associated with greater innovation, entrepreneurial activity and wealth creation. A half century ago, the distribution of brain power in the United States was highly lopsided, favoring the West Coast and Northeast. But, as Joel Kotkin points out in a column today in New Geography, the geography of workforce education has shifted.
States that were the most educated in 1970 still rank among the brainiest states today. But the education gap has narrowed as a steady migration of educated workers to the Sun Belt has lifted the education levels of Southern states in particular. States like New York and Massachusetts have not lifted their averages nearly as rapidly as many other states.
“There’s a movement of educated people — critical to many industries — to formerly backwater states,” writes Kotkin. “Over time jobs, too, are following this path. In the years ahead we can expect these trends to continue or even accelerate.”
Virginia stands in an interesting position nationally. It is one of the few states that ranked among the best educated 50 years ago and has also has been one of the bigger brain gainers.
Virginia ranked 13th in the country for growth in the education level of its population, according to Kotkin.
- Increase in population of college grads: 517%
- Percentage of population with college degree (1970): 12.3%
- Percentage of population with college degree (2013): 36.1%
I would love to drill deeper on this data but lack the means to do so, at present. Conceptually, we need to be looking at two distinct phenomena: (1) the state’s ability to educate its children and young people, in effect, to grow our own educated workforce; and (2) the ability of metropolitan regions to recruit and retain educated workers, which entails an entirely different set of issues.
States such as New York and Massachusetts churn out a lot of workers with college degrees but, for whatever reason, are unable to employ them all. Many emigrate in search of better job opportunities and/or higher standards of living.
With a few exceptions, I don’t see many people in Virginia doing much more than mouthing platitudes — spend more money to educate more young people, regardless of the supply and demand for different types of degrees. We need to move the discussion to a higher level. More on that in the next blog post.There are currently no comments highlighted.