Charleston County looks better educated as most who move here have college degrees

The Post & Courier
David Slade
February 6, 2014

Smart move.

It seems those people relocating to Charleston “from off” are pretty well educated. And they like Charleston County better than Berkeley or Dorchester. All those accolades about Charleston being “The Best of …” must be working.

More than half the adults who moved to Charleston County from other states in recent years were college graduates, helping boost the county’s rate of educational attainment well above the state and national averages.

“The jobs that are being created in our community, a lot of them are high-wage jobs that require bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” said Ernest Andrade, founder and director of the Charleston Digital Corridor and Charleston’s Office of Business Development.

A Census Bureau report also found that as people with graduate and post-graduate degrees were moving into Charleston County from other states, residents without college degrees were moving out, to other counties in South Carolina. That too helped boost the county’s percentage of residents who have at least a bachelor’s degree.

It’s a statistic economic development officials are quick to point out.

More than 38 percent of Charleston County residents 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Nationally, the average is 28.5 percent, and statewide, fewer than one in four have such a credential.

“Educational attainment in greater Charleston is higher than in the United States overall. In fact, Charleston ranks among the top 15% of all U.S. metropolitan and micropolitan areas in terms of the proportion of residents holding advanced degrees,” says the Charleston Regional Development Alliance on its website.

In Berkeley and Dorchester counties, the census data tells a different story. Most arrivals from out of state were not college graduates, and in Dorchester County more people with post-graduate degrees moved out than moved in.

In both counties, the percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree is below the state average. Charleston County alone is responsible for “greater Charleston” statistic mentioned by the CRDA.

The information comes from the latest batch of data from the Census Bureau, based upon surveys from 2007 through 2011. The surveys looked at people age 25 and older to see who was moving in and out of counties across the nation, and their levels of educational attainment, among other things.

“It’s very interesting,” said Andrade. “I’ve always maintained that demographics are a function of our economic development strategy, which is entirely focused on high-wage job creation.”

Most of the data was collected before Boeing opened its airline assembly plant in North Charleston, in mid-2011, but may reflect some of the job-related moves that brought large numbers of Boeing managers and other workers to the area.

Andrade said tech-oriented companies such as BenefitFocus and BoomTown are creating lots of high skill jobs, and arrivals from other states are filling many of them.

“It’s all the more reason, when someone sitting in a snow-covered suburb in the Northeast reads about all the jobs being created here, for them to pack up and move South,” he said.

In the U.S., the population is constantly shifting as people move for work, for family, retirement and other reasons, such as buying a house or changing apartments.

Many of those who move don’t go far, often relocating within a county or to a nearby county within a state. For example, two of the top five population flows for counties in the U.S. involved people moving within California, either from Los Angeles County to Orange County, or from Orange County to Los Angeles County.

But when large numbers of people move to a new area it can reshape the economy, the schools, the roads, and more over time, as people in the Lowcountry have seen.

The greater Charleston area – Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties – has seen one of the nation’s highest growth rates due to people relocating to the area. The latest data shows that Charleston County stands out, in terms of attracting the best-educated.

“The Charleston area is gaining population at a pace that far exceeds the nation as a whole, and the growth of our workforce is reflective of that trend,” said Charleston County Economic Development Director Steve Dykes. “We are gaining more and more highly educated and highly skilled people, including a larger percentage of engineers and IT workers, and this ‘brain gain’ bodes well for the development of our technological sectors going forward.”

The census data with education levels doesn’t look at the ages of those who moved, so those college graduates who relocated from other states to Charleston County could include young high-tech workers and engineers attracted by high-technology jobs, and retirees attracted by the climate and golf courses.

“I would assert that they are moving to Charleston considerably younger,” said Andrade. “The high-wage economy is being built upon a disproportionate share of folks who are moving to our community.”

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