The War For College Graduates

Sabrina Tavernise profiles efforts by the city of Dayton, Ohio to increase its appeal to college graduates. The urgency of the matter is driven home by Enrico Morretti’s recent book The New Geography of Jobs in which he presents three striking facts.

One is that college graduates are increasingly clustering in a relatively small number of highly educated metrpolitan areas—Seattle, Minneapolis, Austin, Raleigh, the Bay Area, and parts of the northeast corridor—rather than spreading out as a thin layer of professionals all across the country. A second is that college graduates appear to earn a wage premium by living in highly educated cities. A third is that people who aren’t college graduates also seem to earn a wage premium by living in a city with a large number of college graduates. So really everyone wins if Dayton manages to pull this off.

On the other hand, I fear that growing recognition of these dynamics may have the perverse impact of discouraging state and local government investment in higher education. One of the main reasons for Kentucky to invest in Kentucky based institutions of higher education has traditionally been the idea that this will provide Kentucky with the base of educated professionals—accountants, teachers, lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers—that it needs for general prosperity. But if it comes to be perceived that the real impact of giving a Kentuckian a bachelor’s degree is that it’s her ticket to move to Boston then that may look like a bad idea. And yet, having different cities compete to try to attract a fixed pool of skilled workers isn’t a really great idea. If you’re a mayor somewhere, then by all means go for it, but on a national level we need to work on college preparation, college completion, and immigration policy to increase the pool of skilled workers.