Everybody expects Charleston to land at the top of lists for fine dining and great vacation destinations, but a first-place ranking on an education list might come as a surprise.
The Charleston, North Charleston and Summerville metropolitan area had the greatest percentage-point increase in the nation over the past decade in the portion of residents who hold bachelor’s degrees. Experts attribute the increase largely to more educated people moving here from other states.
The percentage of people in the area who hold a bachelor’s degree grew by 6.9 percentage points to 31.9 percent between 2000 and 2010, said Alan Berube, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Berube and his colleagues late last month analyzed U.S. Census Data for The Wall Street Journal, and ranked the nation’s top 10 “brain gainers” of the past decade, among which Charleston was first.
The percentage of people who hold college degrees is important because an area’s average level of educational attainment is widely considered the most important factor in promoting economic development.
Seeing Charleston land at the top of the list was a surprise, Berube said. Many people with college degrees choose to move to areas in which many other residents already hold such degrees, he said. The larger metropolitan areas tend to “suck up more and more of the college graduates.”
Berube said he thinks the Charleston area had a dramatic increase because many highly educated people, especially retirees, moved to the area in the past decade. For instance, he said, between 2009 and 2010, 45 percent of the people who moved to Charleston from other states held a bachelor’s degree.
The findings “bode well for the future in terms of economic development,” said Jocelyn Evans, associate dean of undergraduate studies for the College of Charleston’s School of Business.
She said many highly educated retirees who move to the area start new businesses. That’s good for the local economy, and also for recent college graduates, who are looking for jobs, she said.
Evans said she also thinks that many out-of-state students who come to Charleston to attend college decide to stay in the city after they graduate.
David Ginn, president of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, said the increase “affirms that Charleston is a global destination not only for business but for talent as well.”
Ginn also said that a highly educated and skilled workforce is the main concern for businesses looking to locate, start up or expand, “particularly the higher wage, technically advanced industries we are actively recruiting.”
Garrison Walters, executive director for the state’s Commission on Higher Education, said the news was great for Charleston. Research conducted in 2009 for the commission’s action plan makes clear that there is enormous economic value to the state in having a more highly educated population, he said.
While attracting educated people from other states is positive, South Carolina can’t rely on them to grow its own economy. It must educate more of its own residents so they can “compete and be more effective in the knowledge economy,” Walters said.
Berube said that Charleston, with nearly 32 percent of its adult population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, now ranks 30th among the nation’s largest 100 metropolitan areas.
By the numbers
Metro areas with the biggest 10-year growth in their college-educated populations:
Metro area | Percentage point increase | Portion with college degrees
Charleston | 6.9 pts. | 31.9 percent
Madison, Wis. | 6.4 pts. | 43.3 percent
Boston | 6.1 pts. | 43 percent
Poughkeepsie, N.Y. | 6 pts. | 30.9 percent
Baltimore | 5.9 pts. | 35.1 percent
Omaha, Neb. | 5.9 pts. | 33 percent
Worcester, Mass. | 5.8 pts. | 32.7 percent
Pittsburgh | 5.7 pts. | 29.1 percent
New York | 5.6 pts. | 36 percent
Ogden, Utah | 5.5 pts. | 30.1 percent