Today, the New York Times reports on a study showing that “a centrifugal force… is concentrating the nation’s college graduates into a set of metro areas” — and, as a consequence, leaving others behind.
First things first: know that Baltimore, a city dominated by its education industry, is benefiting from this trend. A full 35 percent of residents in the Baltimore-Towson region have a college degree, up nearly 25 percent from 1970. That puts us in the top-15 of cities nationwide. And, as the Times reports, cities where college graduates cluster tend to reap the benefits of longer life expectancies, higher average incomes, and fewer single-parent families. Ideally, this is a rising-tide-raises-all-boats situation: More college graduates leads to higher regional income, which in turn results in a higher tax base and better public services.
But (of course) there’s a dark side to the success that cities like Baltimore, DC, San Jose, and Boston have seen — and it looks like Dayton, Ohio.
As college grads increasingly cluster in certain regions and avoid others, certain cities get left behind. Forty years ago, Dayton and Chicago’s populations had similar rates of college graduation; these days, that gap has widened significantly — and Dayton is just one of the rust belt cities that’s feeling the negative effects.
It can be strange to look at a list like this one and see Baltimore held up as a place that’s doing things right, when our city’s name so often gets used as shorthand for “crime” or “urban decay.” But the New Republic is encouraging residents of Dayton and other areas moving down the educational-attainment ladder to look to places like Baltimore and Pittsburgh as models. Our economy was hit hard by the loss of manufacturing, an economic whammy that the city’s still recovering from. But because those losses happened earlier than the rust belt’s subsequent collapse, Baltimore (and Pittsburgh and Charlotte, etc.) have had more of a chance to rebuild economies based around things like health, higher education, and technology. No one’s arguing that it’s been easy, or that the transition is complete. But Baltimore’s long-term economic transition has been going on for a while — and it seems that finally, people are noticing that we’re doing something right.