Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Them's Fighting Words

Recently, Forbes published a photo essay touting the results of a study done by ranking the 150 largest metropolitan areas to determine where the most educated are most likely to settle.

The researchers weighted the population based on the percentage of adults over the age of 25 who had varying advanced degrees. They also weighted the quality of education provided in the area based on the public school ranking, the average quality of the university or universities in the area, and the number of students enrolled in top 200 level Universities per capita.

On the face of it, these parameters seem reasonable but when the tag line on the Forbes article proclaimed my hometown of Beaumont, Texas to be the least educated city in the United States, I dusted off my Stetson, straightened my two diplomas from Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame and Boston College respectively, and went to work.


Because the Texan in me says, "That dog won't hunt."

Before you dismiss my argument because I'm just a home team kind of gal, I'll concede the point. Born in Houston, raised in Beaumont,  I still have many people I love and seek to visit when I get the opportunity, living there.  But it doesn't mean I'm wrong.

I see problems with the generalizations created by this study --problems I don't see examined or discussed in the results as published.

So I started looking at the original study which proclaims Ann Arbor, Michigan, the number one educated city in America.

Ann Arbor, Michigan enjoys a population of 116,112.  The University of Michigan is located there. The University of Michigan employs a total of 25,274 part and full time faculty and staff at its university, serving the undergraduate, graduate, medical and law schools respectively.   As a result, before you count the general population, 21% of the people in the city of Ann Arbor, by virtue of the State School, pad the stats in the city's favor.  

Beaumont, Texas, clocks in at a population of 118,228, so it's comparable in size.   It has Lamar University. Its faculty totals 552, or  less than one percent.   But Lamar is a community/commuter college and can't be compared to the University of Michigan. A more proper comparative might be the University of Texas in Austin, in terms of size, faculty and the like.  UT has roughly 24,000 faculty and thus is a parallel size university.  It's an apples to oranges kind of thing or should be.

So college towns which hold a State University will be unnecessarily and in a sense, unfairly weighted to come out better. if the means of measurement is a college degree.  One wonders the point of a study that essentially looks at the data and ultimately declares, CITIES WITH COLLEGES HAVE MORE PEOPLE IN THEM WITH COLLEGE DEGREES! as if that somehow needed researching.

Obviously, if you live in a city with more than one school, you're going to rank high on the scale, and if your general population is small --if the college is the primary or only dance in town, your ranking based on the percentage of population having the criteria of a higher degree, will be affected positively.  But the result of such a damning statement on a city, on my city of Beaumont, "Worst Educated in America" is an evil not deserved.  It will further dampen opportunity for my hometown, and that's not very nice of Wallethub, especially when the rankings simply reveal where the degrees are, and doesn't take into account the why of it.

Indeed, if you look at the top ten cities, Ann Arbor, Mi, Raleigh, NC, Durham, NC, Provo, Utah, Manchester, New Hampshire, Seattle, Washington, San Jose, California, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Baltimore, Maryland and Boston, Massachusetts, you probably can name at least one if not two universities located in the heart of them without breaking much of a sweat.  Looking at those ranked lowest using this means of measurement, Beaumont, Texas, Salinas California, Rockville, Illinois, Brownsville, Texas, Modesto, California, Visalia, California, Bakersfield, California, Lakeland, Florida, McAllen, Texas and Fresno, California, what's the big difference?   Name me a university that just rolls off the tongue for any of them.

For the record, I did look at Fresno, California which boasts 17 colleges and 47,960 students enrolled but which because the colleges themselves are small, and the population of Fresno large (505,882), found itself among the bottom of the 150 metropolitan list in this study.

The stated purpose of the study was to figure out what attracts educated people to move to a metropolitan area.  Answer, probably jobs.

Cities which boast a place that can employ a person with an advanced degree, will probably lure people with advanced degrees so that they can use said advanced degrees. It doesn't take an advanced degree to figure that out.  It does however seem to require a study.  Maybe listing the cities to cite where the schools/ph.d's are helps but I'm not sure how.

If the secondary purpose was to brainstorm about how to attract educated people, the researchers might want to delve beyond the easy stat comparison to find real or absolute numbers.  How about leveling the playing field to determine something more meaningful than ranking, namely the underlying why there are more college degrees in one place than another, or to see what percentage beyond that generated by employment via a university is educated? What percentage beyond that generated by employment is warranted?  What are the economic demands for said degrees in each area and are they being met, and if not, why not?  The name of the game is supply and demand.  University towns both supply and demand advanced degrees.  Cities with other industries do not always require that degree of degrees.

Maybe Wallethub could do an advanced version of this same study, go beyond the numbers, dig deeper into the stats they've already done.  Drop out the population that works at any and all universities for each city, as being self fulfilling stats and try again.  The results may change some, and reveal whether or not the general population is educated, and what might be masked by the skewing of the data via the comparison of large to small schools where there is no adjustment for population size/needs of the area for advanced degrees.

So yeah, I'm a home girl, but I know people in Beaumont, and they're smart, resourceful, strong, kind and worth knowing.  They're some of the best people in the United States whether or not they have the pieces of paper on the wall to vindicate their intellect to people drafting a study.  I'd invite the good folks of to come visit and talk to us.  They might learn something other than what they expected.

Why do I know?  I grew up in Beaumont Texas.


Anonymous said...

The stats are correct. I've lived in Beaumont. It's a shithole, and it's full of idiots.

Sherry Antonetti said...

I disagree but I will leave your comment. As a rule I generally do not allow anonymous comments especially when they use profanity. I do have one anonymous poster, but she's not anoymous to me. Also, I don't allow such words in my home, and this blog is part of my home. So please, respect it as such. Thank you.

Anna Dobritt said...

Well done, Sherry!

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!