Monday, December 22, 2014

Profiling Utah’s Population With Advanced Degrees

Mark Knold, Supervising Economist

The 2013 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) provides information to profile the educational makeup of Utah’s various cities and regions.

Educational attainment is not uniform across Utah’s various metropolitan areas. Neither are the various occupational mixes. Occupations have various levels of educational need; therefore, an area’s occupational mix will regulate a local area’s educational makeup.

A doctor position generally asks for a medical PhD. For my economist positions, I ask for a bachelor’s degree. Someone hiring construction laborers will probably look for high school completion, or less depending on the need. The point is an area’s occupational structure is what builds the area’s educational profile.

For example, the Vernal area’s economic foundation is built upon oil, natural gas and mining type occupations. These are good-paying labor positions, but they generally do not require someone with a bachelor’s degree to fill most positions. They will commonly accept an education level below a four-year undergraduate degree. Therefore, one would expect that the Vernal area would not be over-saturated with people who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. The occupational mix will not support a large quantity of bachelor degree holders. The ACS data in the figure below shows this to be so.

Click graph to enlarge
From this figure, we see that the Park City area has Utah’s highest population percentage with a bachelor’s degree or higher. It is not always the occupations in the immediate area that establishes the population’s educational foundation, but also what occupations are easy to commute to. The Park City area’s jobs themselves do not ask for such a high proportion of high-educational attainment. Instead, it is the proximity and easy commute to the Salt Lake City metropolitan area that supports this high-education conglomeration. There are many higher-income Utahns who work in Salt Lake City and choose to live in the mountains. It is common knowledge that higher education levels lead to higher income levels, and with higher incomes, one can be more discerning as to where one lives. The Park City environs are a high-amenity region, and thus it attracts the higher-income crowd, which is also the higher-education crowd.

Logan carries the next highest education percentage due to it hosting a major university, Utah State. The Provo area, which has two universities, also has a high education percentage. The Heber area carries the same distinction as the Park City area, in that it is a high commute community for the close Salt Lake and Provo metropolitan areas.

The remaining areas don’t offer any surprises in their educational percentages. Similar to Vernal, Price is a rural-isolated metropolitan area characterized with mining and power-generation jobs, among others — the majority of which don’t generally require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

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