Educational Attainment Delivers Economic Returns

ImageIt has become known that education is the most important engine of economic growth and individual financial gain. There is little doubt that our success in growing a stronger economy and lifting incomes will depend on getting better results in education, from cradle to career.

Helping to address the regional goal of 60% educational attainment by 2025, I have the privilege of working with leaders at all levels in the education, nonprofit, community, civic, and philanthropic sectors to tackle some of the most pressing challenges and take advantage of some of our biggest opportunities. There are a variety of programs that track outcome indicators across the cradle to career spectrum with the ultimate goal of higher educational attainment at all levels.

Because this is such an important element in the future of our region, together we have evaluated the latest educational attainment data for our region, looking at both local progress and how we compare to other peer areas. Specifically, there is a clear positive relationship with median earnings and an inverse relationship with the unemployment rate at a national level.

Educational Attainment in the Urban Core

With the release of the American Community Survey (ACS) 2005-2009 5-Year estimates, Educational Attainment data are available for smaller geographies for the first time outside of the decennial censuses. The data are based on a rolling annual sample survey mailed to about 3 million addresses between Jan. 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2009. By pooling several years of survey responses, the ACS can generate detailed statistical portraits of smaller geographies. The Census Bureau will release a new set of 5-year estimates every year, giving communities a powerful tool to track local trends over time. In the urban core, the low hanging fruit is educational attainment for the 25-35 age group that has some college and the City of Grand Rapids knows that supporting the completion of a certificate program or a college degree in this age bracket will produce quick and meaningful results.

Educational Attainment in the Region

Educational Attainment is a key indicator for our region as a whole. Educational Attainment data from can be found for the entire Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), as well as by county, in the new census data portal. Data are provided on Percent of the Population 25 and Older with an Associate’s Degree or Higher, along with other indicators.

There is, of course, data to show multiple levels of attainment. MSA and peer region data related to the Percent of the Population 25 and Older with Bachelor’s Degree or Higher is something economic developers should evaluate and consider when determining what work still needs to be done.  

The data can also be broken out by other levels of attainment and by age. It is important to look at all the data and help ensure that our region is moving up at all levels. The data can also be broken out by age and this is where we see some positive movement for your region.

I challenge you to compare your city, county, village, township, region to others in the state and peers outside the state to determine how competitive you are now and what work is needed to make you more competitive in the future. The future of our state is our talent and if we don’t have a talented workforce we can’t attract the economic activity.

Authored by: Kara Wood, Economic Development Director, City of Grand Rapids. Kara serves as Treasurer on MEDA’s Board of Directors.

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