Saturday, September 02, 2006

Census Bureau Reports Anchorage, Alaska The 22nd "Brainiest" City In The United States

If you equate education with intelligence, then the smartest city in the United States is Seattle - 52.7 percent of its residents age 25 or older have completed a bachelor's degree or higher. However, Anchorage, Alaska also makes the list - checking in 22nd at 32.7 percent. The education rankings were released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau and are reported on

Seattle's also been ranked as the most literate city in the United States by Central Connecticut State University, beating out Minneapolis, Washington and Atlanta. That rating was based on such things as the number of booksellers, libraries and newspaper circulation - as well as educational attainment.

Many brainy people have flocked to the Seattle area to work in what's called the "knowledge economy." Companies headquartered there and in surrounding towns, including Microsoft, Amazon, Cray, Washington Mutual and Costco, all use heavy doses of information technology. Even another of the area's biggest employers, old-line Boeing, is also a glutton for technological solutions.

Seattle also has more than its share of residents with advanced degrees: 20.5 percent. Only Washington, D.C., has more holders of advanced degrees. Many there work for the federal government, as well as for the think tanks and other nongovernmental organizations that form the heart of capital's working culture. See the Top 25 table below and get more key stats on each city.

For many twenty-first-century cities, knowledge drives what Andrew Beveridge, Queens College sociology professor, calls the "super service economy." Cities in general are better positioned than rural areas to attract knowledge workers. The advantages can vary from an abundance of high-tech or other employers who require highly educated workers to cultural facilities and recreational opportunities.

Second to Seattle for the percentage of residents holding bachelor's degrees is San Francisco, a center for high-tech and financial services.Raleigh, N.C., with its amalgam of great research universities and high-tech companies, tied San Francisco for second place for holders of bachelor's degrees and was seventh for advanced degrees, with 16.7 percent of residents holding one.

New York cracks the top 25 list at No. 20 and is No. 19 for advanced degrees. For Manhattan alone, however - the center of New York's knowledge economy - the percentage of residents with bachelor's degrees is a whopping 57.5, and the figure for advanced degrees is 26.9 percent.

Manhattan is a prime example of the kind of urban area that has become a magnet for young college grads, according to Beveridge. The types of industries thriving there, he says - Wall Street, publishing and television production, advertising - all require highly educated workers. But New York also draws educated young people for its performing and fine arts, museums, street life, professional sports teams and other cultural assets.

San Francisco has many of these same strengths, and, like New York, it is a culturally and ethnically diverse city that welcomes people with alternative lifestyles, the so-called creative class. This group is made up of artists, musicians and writers and includes gay men and "bohemian" types.

Richard Florida, who developed the creative-class concept (the efficacy of which remains controversial), advises that attracting these groups pays off better for cities than building large-scale industrial developments or municipal building projects.Although it might be debated which comes first, an educated population or a successful economy, there is little doubt that the two are closely entwined; wealthy places tend to have well-educated populaces. In the United States, the five most-educated major municipalities all qualify among the 25 cities with the highest median household income. Seattle for example, is the eighth-wealthiest city in the nation measured by household income. San Francisco is the fourth. The wealthiest city, San Jose, is also the among the 15 best educated. As your mom always said, to get a good job, get a good education. .

Here are the top 25 "brainiest" cities in the United States with more than 250,000 population, ranked by percentage of bachelor's degrees among residents 25 and older.

City, State, Percent With Bachelor's Degrees
Seattle, WA, 52.7
San Francisco, CA, 50.1
Raleigh, NC, 50.1
Washington, DC, 45.3
Austin, TX, 44.1
Minneapolis, MN, 43.2
Atlanta, GA, 42.4
Boston, MA, 40.9
San Diego, CA, 40.4
Lexington-Fayette, KY, 39.5
Denver, CO, 39.0
Charlotte, NC, 38.8
Portland, OR, 38.8
St. Paul, MN, 36.5
San Jose, CA, 36.1
Colorado Springs, CO, 34.9
Honolulu, HI, 34.7
Oakland, CA, 33.8
Pittsburgh, PA, 32.3
New York, NY, 32.2
Albuquerque, NM, 32.2
Anchorage, AK, 32.2
Omaha, NE, 31.9
Nashville-Davidson, TN, 31.7
Columbus, OH, 31.4
New Orleans, LA, 31.4

Anchorage's presence should not be a surprise, since it's serviced the Alaska oil industry for nearly 30 years. The oil pipeline and the installations on the North Slope and Valdez required a significant quantity of petroleum and environmental engineers. The possible advent of an Alaska natural gas pipeline will create a renewed need for such talent.

Much of the talent will still need to be imported from and/or educated from outside Alaska. The University of Alaska at Anchorage (UAA) is slowly rising to meet the challenge of providing better higher education to its students, so we can fill these needs with more Alaskans. UAA's new Integrated Science Facility is a great leap forward. This 120,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility will house instructional laboratories for high demand programs in health sciences, nursing, and engineering, plus modern classrooms for other traditional lab-based science programs, creating a collaborative community of science education in Alaska’s major center of commerce, medical care, and construction. However, Anchorage's other university, the privately-owned Alaska Pacific University (APU), is still simply too small to supply more than an anecdotal number of people equipped with the creative skills necessary to conceive, construct, and implement a complex natural gas extraction and transportation system.

The closest equivalent we have to a "junior" college in Anchorage is Charter College, which provides solid technical training in many areas such as computer technology. A student can earn a Bachelor's Degree in just 30 Months, an Associate Degree in just 15 Months, or a Career Certificate in just 5 months. With its "Building Block Curriculum" concept, one can transfer a lesser credential to a higher credential without loss of credit. For example, a certificate program can be fully credited toward an associate degree, while an associate degree can be fully credited toward a bachelor's degree. This flexibility enables Charter College to provide trained people more quickly than comparable institutions; it's true higher education without all the rah-rah sis-boom-bah frat-rat crap that unnecessarily prolongs the academic experience (and prolongs the university's pipeline into the student's wallet).

We can look for Anchorage to remain on this list (and even move up a bit) for years to come.

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