Good news for many of America’s struggling cities: More college graduates are flocking to urban centers in the West and South than ever before, chasing jobs and a more sophisticated lifestyle.
The trend is uncovered in a new Associated Press analysis of university education demographics over the past three decades. This bodes well for San Francisco, which ranked in the topmost tier of best-educated U.S. cities. Nearly half of San Francisco adults have bachelor’s degrees. Nationally the average is more like 25 percent — more than double the level in 1970.
Post-college population distribution is important, according to Cleveland State University economics professor Ned Hill: "The largest predictor of economic well-being in cities is the percent of college graduates. Cities, in order to remain fiscally viable, have to have a package of goods and services that are attractive to educated people."
In other words, cities with few college graduates have a hard time generating the type of good-paying jobs that offer hope to urban areas struggling against high poverty rates, job losses,infrastructure decay, problematic public schools and budgetary shortfalls.
Even while many of the largest cities have lost population, nearly all have added college graduates. College graduates earn much more money than high school graduates and more than twice as much as high school dropouts.
This spread in purchasing power reflects the better-paying skilled jobs that not only benefit individuals and families, but also can help fatten city coffers.
Cities seeking to increase their pool of skilled labor need to foster an environment that attracts newcomers from elsewhere in the U.S. and overseas, the Associated Press found. This also is a good omen for San Francisco, which consistently ranks high in polls for most desirable cities to live in.
However, a city where well-educated people like to live and work is likely to have built-in problems, particularly a high cost of housing. San Francisco had the costliest housing in the AP study, with a median home price that was more than four times the national median.
The report also underscored the importance of creating an environment conducive to raising families, an area in which San Francisco still has much work to do. It warned that most large cities, including San Francisco, have underperforming public schools. And without good schools, many of a city’s best-educated and most productive residents flee to nearby suburbs once they become parents.
The challenges The City faces are numerous. But its attractiveness to an educated work force offers a solid base for economic expansion.