Where College Grads Congregate

New data from the Brookings Institution indicates college graduates are migrating to cities, especially cities with already high levels of educational attainment. Those cities are typified by major universities, service industries, modern manufacturers — and lower unemployment.

Washington, D.C. and its surrounding suburbs lead the largest 100 American metropolitan areas in education attainment, with 46.8 percent of its residents possessing at least a 4-year college degree.

The next nine areas, in order, are San Jose-Santa Clara (45.3%), Bridgeport-Stamford (44%), San Francisco (43.4%), Madison (43.3%), Boston-Cambridge (43%), Raleigh-Durham (41%), Austin (39.4%), Denver (38.2%) and Minneapolis (37.9%).

Seattle-Tacoma ranks 11th, with 37 percent of its population holding college degrees. Portland is tied for 22nd, along with Omaha and Rochester, at 33 percent. Boise is 58th with a college degree attainment level of 28.3 percent. (Use the link below to find out how your city ranks.)

The more dramatic dimension of the data is the growing disparity in education attainment among major metropolitan areas. The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program compared attainment levels in 1970 with 2010, the latest available data, which shows that the cities with the highest number of college graduates are increasing their ranks at the fastest rate.

For example, the Boston area's growth in education attainment went up nearly 29 percent in the 40-year period. That contrasts to a growth rate of just 6 percent for Bakersfield, which came in 100th on the rankings. Its education attainment level in 1970 was 8.9 percent and now is only 15 percent.

The areas with the fastest growing concentration of college graduates, in addition to Boston, are San Francisco, Washington, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta and Denver. Their gains were three times as large as the lagging education-attainment areas such as Modesto, Stockton, Lakeland, Florida, Youngstown, Ohio, El Paso and Las Vegas.