The Detroit and Grand Rapids metro areas have tripled the proportion of their residents with college degrees since 1970. Still, an expert on work-force development in Michigan says the state's two largest urban centers are treading water -- at best.
An analysis by the Brookings Institution of the 100 largest metro areas placed Detroit 65th and Grand Rapids 75th on college attainment, even with big gains on that front since 1970.
For example, Metro Detroit went from having 9.4 percent of its population with a college degree in 1970 to 27.3 percent in 2010.Grand Rapids climbed from 9.2 percent to 26.2 percent. (The Washington, D.C., area topped the list at 46.8 percent, while the lowest figure among the 100 was Bakersfield, Calif., at 15 percent.)
Larry Good of the Corporation for a Skilled Work Force in Ann Arbor notes that educational attainment was growing across the country.
"I think the data really argues that Detroit and Grand Rapids grew the proportion of college graduates at roughly the same pace as most metro areas and slower than a number of regions we compete with in an era of knowledge-economy jobs," he stated via email.
"What that dramatic increase reflects is that many who were retiring from the work force during that 40-year period did not have a college degree (including many who left school before World War II and post-war stimulants to attend college, such as the GI Bill). The more recent time frame data in-state and nationally show that growth slowing and even declining as we enter a period in which a much larger proportion of retirees have a degree," he explained.
"So, we, in effect, need to replace that (retired) person plus add another to increase the proportion now."
Good adds that the transformation of the economy means Michigan has to come up with a surge of college grads to be competitive going forward:
"(T)he 26 percent-27 percent range Detroit and Grand Rapids are in comes out at roughly half of the numbers that some notable researchers and policy folks believe are needed. The Lumina Foundation’s entire portfolio centers around the proposition that the United States needs 60 percent of its work force to have a post-secondary credential by 2025. The urgency to increase post-secondary attainment – including associate degrees and industry-valued certifications – remains at the core of economic strategy. This isn’t going to occur without a substantially increased investment in post-secondary education in Michigan."
The effect of college attainment on employment received reinforcement last Friday with the release of the latest national employment figures. While the official unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent, the jobless rate for those holding college degrees declined to 3.9 percent in May, a level not seen since December 2008.