By Lecia Parks Langston, Senior Economist
“No economy can succeed without a high-quality workforce, particularly in an age of globalization and technical change.” Ben Bernanke
• With 88 percent of its population having graduated from high school, Central Utah performs just slightly better than the nation, but not as good as the state.
• Piute County shows the second-lowest share of high school graduates in the state and is the only Central Utah county with a lower rate than the United States.
• Wayne County shows the highest levels of educational attainment in Central Utah.
• Young people are less likely to have graduated from high school than their elders.
• Central Utah still shows a significantly lower share of college graduates than both the U.S. and Utah.
• Lower educational attainment reflects the lack of employment opportunities for highly educated persons in less-populated counties. Persons who pursue a higher education must often find jobs in urban areas.
• In Utah, there is a five-point spread between women (28 percent) and men (33 percent) with at least a bachelor’s degree — the largest state-level education gap in the nation. The Central Utah education gap is scarcely smaller with women at 17 percent and men at 21 percent.
• In Central Utah, as elsewhere, the higher an individual’s educational attainment, the less likely they are to be unemployed.
• The same basic relationship consistently appears in Central Utah, Utah and the U.S. — the higher the educational attainment, the higher the earnings.
• In Central Utah both veterans and nonveterans show roughly the same percentage with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Economic success and educational attainment certainly seem connected. Well-educated populations typically display higher overall incomes, more diversification, and wider variation in employment opportunities. Site-location firms use educational attainment as a factor in making recommendations for their clients. Plus, a well-educated workforce is often a more productive workforce. On the other hand, less-populated regions may lack the job opportunities demanded by those with more education. Understanding the education of an area’s population and labor force assists us in understanding the region’s economic environment.
This article highlights the educational attainment data for Central Utah. Figures are taken from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) just-released five-year average figures for 2010-2014. The five-year average is the only data set available for small counties and provides comparability across regions.
You’ll notice from the visualization that there’s a lot of data available. This article will cover the information with broad brush strokes. Those truly interested in the educational attainment of a particular region can use the visualization to dig even deeper. However, keep in mind that the survey margins of error (available from the Census Bureau) for small counties might be considerable and should be used with caution.
Where all the graduates are above average…Utah does a great job of graduating students from high school. Roughly 90 percent of those over 18 years old have a high school diploma or equivalency compared to 86 percent nationally. With 88 percent of its population having graduated from high school, Central Utah performs just slightly better than the nation, but not as good as the state. When only those over 25 years old are counted, the area’s rate rises to 89 percent.
In Central Utah, only Wayne County shows a higher share of high school graduates (94 percent) than the state. On the other end of the scale, Piute County (84 percent) shows the second-lowest share in Utah and is the only Central Utah county with a lower rate than the United States. While the size of a Utah county’s population generally correlates with post-secondary educational attainment, high school graduation does not. Some of the most rural counties in Utah show the highest high school graduation rates.
Young people are less likely to have graduated from high school than their elders. In Utah, 13 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds did not have a high school diploma compared to 10 percent of those 65 years and older. Of course, some 18 year olds would still be attending high school in their senior year. According to the survey, in Central Utah, 18 to 24 year-olds fall far behind their Utah peers with 20 percent failing to graduate from high school. Interestingly, the lowest percentage of nongraduates in Central Utah occurs among those 45 years and older. Roughly 10 percent of this age group had failed to obtain a high school education.
While high school graduation rates measure higher in the Beehive State, Utah placed neck and neck with the U.S. in the percentage of those over 18 with at least a bachelor’s degree — 27 percent. In Central Utah, a mere 16 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. This situation obviously reflects the lack of employment opportunities for highly educated persons in less-populated counties. Persons who pursue a higher education must often find jobs in urban areas.
Since it usually takes a few years to earn a college degree after high school, the more pertinent measurement looks at only those 25 years and older. Using this group, Utah comes out on top with 31 percent of the population holding at least a bachelor’s degree compared to the U.S. average of 29 percent. At 19 percent, Central Utah still shows a significantly lower share than both the U.S. and Utah.
One category where Utah falls behind is the share of women who have a college degree. Nationally, 29 percent of females in this age group have a bachelor’s degree or higher — the same ratio as men. In Utah, there is a five-point spread between women (28 percent) and men (33 percent) — the largest state-level education gap in the nation. The Central Utah education gap is scarcely smaller with women at 17 percent and men at 21 percent.
Not surprisingly given Central Utah’s low overall standing when it comes to post-secondary educational attainment, no county shows a bachelor’s-degree-or-higher share higher than the Utah average. At 27 percent, Wayne County comes closest to the Utah figure of 31 percent. Sevier County comes in last among the central counties with a college-educated share of only 16 percent — almost half the statewide figure.
The age factorWith age may come wisdom, but not necessarily an education. Age can relate to educational attainment in two contrary ways. First, older individuals have had more time to complete a post-secondary degree, which would tend to increase educational attainment. In contrast, because the opportunities for a college education have improved and the demand for college-educated workers has increased, younger people may be more likely to pursue a higher education than did their elders. Both these tendencies appear in the data.
Following the Utah pattern, those 35 to 44 years old are the most likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher (21 percent) in Central Utah. They are also the most likely to have obtained graduate or professional degrees. Nevertheless, very little difference can be found in the share of college degrees by age group past the age of 34. Among individuals 25 years and older, those 25 to 34 years old are least likely to have at least a four-year degree.
Interestingly, 59 percent of the adult population in Central Utah has attended at least some college. Although lower than the 67 -percent share for Utah, college attenders make up a substantial segment of adults. Nationally, 58 percent of the adult population can be categorized in the same group.
While women in Central Utah are less likely than men to have a four-year degree or better, their rates of high school graduation are notably different. Roughly 90 percent of women have graduated from high school compared with 86 percent of men. In Central Utah, Utah and the U.S., men are more likely to be high school dropouts than are women.
More education? Higher earnings and less unemploymentIn Central Utah, as elsewhere, the higher an individual’s educational attainment, the less likely they are to be unemployed. Roughly 14 percent of those who failed to graduate from high school were unemployed in the time period compared to only 3 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees or higher. Those with at least a four-year degree made up only 9 percent of the unemployed, but 21 percent of the labor force.
The survey also provides earnings data based on educational attainment. This data does not afford an apples-to-apples comparison. The median annual earnings of all workers — full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal — are included in the tallies. A better evaluation would show earnings of just year-round, full-time workers. However, the same basic relationship consistently appears in Central Utah, Utah and the U.S. — the higher the educational attainment, the higher the earnings. For example, individuals with graduate/professional degrees in Millard County show median earnings registering more than triple the earnings of those with less than a high school education.
In Central Utah, women with bachelor’s degrees generally experience a smaller wage gap when compared with men than those with lower levels of education. Remember when using the visualization that margins of error for less-populated counties can be quite large and earnings data for those areas should be used with caution.