Living in the smartest city in the country sounds great. However, does it mean that you have it better than the rest? Let's see!
To identify the most educated cities, USA Today's content partner 24/7 Wall Street took the U.S. Census Bureau's 2019 data about the percentage of residents with a bachelor's degree or higher. The rating looks at the major metropolitan areas state by state, so the "city" has a bit broad definition here. Moreover, every state had only one candidate for the running, so to speak. That's the major limitation of the rating.
There also might be a discrepancy between the state's and the city's percentages of adults with college credentials. For some states, predictably, the number of adults with higher education diplomas is higher in metropolitan areas. Whereas for others (like Delaware, for example), the situation is reversed: more educated people live in small towns than in the major city. That is why some states with a decent average level of education didn't make it into this rating – their cities turned out to be the weakest link.
That said, here is how the newest rating looks like.
#1 Boulder (Colorado)
With a 64,8% attainment rate, Boulder boldly opens this list. The concentration of adults with a college degree is by half bigger than the state's average (42.7% for Colorado) and almost twice as high as nationwide 33.1%. Boulder boasts 8 institutions of higher education.
#2 Corvallis (Oregon)
With 57,9% of adult residents having a diploma, Corvallis is also by half ahead of its state's average of 34.5%. Although there are only two universities in Corvallis, apparently, it's quite enough. Besides, the metro area is relatively small.
#3 Ithaca (New York)
Bronze on this list, Ithaca has 56,9% of adults with diplomas and a similar ratio to its state's average of 37.8% – approximately 1.5. There are 4 universities in the area, Ivy League school Cornell University among them. Interestingly, Ithaca left behind New York City, with its 41.8% attainment rate.
#4 Ann Arbor (Michigan)
Coming fourth, Ann Arbor has a 55,9% bachelor's degree attainment rate. It's a typical college town, so no wonder over half of the adult residents have a degree. The city is home to the University of Michigan, along with 4 other higher education institutions.
#5 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara (California)
Keeping up with the trend of exceeding the state's average by 1.5, San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara has 52,7%, while California, on average, has only 35% of well-educated adults. With 26 colleges and universities in the metro area, this is hardly a surprise. Moreover, the main chunk of Silicon Valley is situated here, shaping a job market that favors college graduates.
#6 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH (Massachusetts)
Finally breaking the pattern, Boston-Cambridge-Newton harbors 49,3% of bachelor's degree holders, while the average for Massachusetts is 45% (close enough). With a whopping 122 colleges and universities, including Harvard and MIT, no wonder it's the most educated city of the most educated state.
#7 Charlottesville (Virginia)
Closely following Boston is Charlottesville, with 49.2% (well above the state's average of 39.6%). With only over 47,000 residents, 4 colleges and universities turned out to be enough for the city to make it to the rating.
#8 Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk (Connecticut)
Closer to the end of this list, every decimal point counts. For Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, with 49,1% of adults with a bachelor's degree, it means only eighth place, despite the impressive number of colleges and universities – 19 for a relatively small-sized metro area.
#9 Iowa City (Iowa)
Iowa City's 48,8% attainment rate exceeds the state's 29.3% by 1.6 – an impressive achievement, given there are only 4 universities in the area, including the University of Iowa.
#10 Madison (Wisconsin)
Another college town on the list, Madison is home to 16 colleges and universities, including the University of Wisconsin. The bachelor's degree attainment rate is 48.6% – again well ahead of both the state's 31.3% and nationwide 33.1%.
Anyway, you shouldn't take these things too seriously, however entertaining the comparison might be. For example, Michael T. Nietzel, president emeritus of Missouri State University, Forbes senior contributor, and author of books on education in America, warns that we should take such listicles with a pinch of salt. "Rankings of this sort are almost irresistible. They tap into America's competitive spirit and its quest to be best. They offer simple quantification of complex qualities. They make good copy. But don't take them too seriously. Cautious curiosity is advised," he said in his column about a similar ranking made by Adam McCann, a financial writer for WalletHub back in 2020.
For example, Nietzel questions the relationships between the following factors:
- the percentage of college graduates and quality of higher education in the state (educated adults can migrate from other states)
- the number of free community colleges and place in the rating (more community colleges may mean that attainment levels are low and the state tries to raise them)
That means, if you live in the smartest city, you won't necessarily get the best school education or will have it easier during college admission. Moreover, these percentages are highly volatile. For example, a similar rating based on the U.S. Census 2017 looked completely different: Seattle, San Francisco, D.C., Raleigh, Austin, Minneapolis, Portland, Denver, Atlanta, and Boston, respectively. However, that wouldn't deter future paper writer from tapping into census data for entertaining content, albeit based on superfluous insight.
Anyway, I hope you had fun with that. And don't worry if your city didn't make it to this year's list. That means when you graduate, you have higher chances of becoming a big fish in a small pond. Good luck!