Report: Louisville Improves Standing for College Degree-Holders (But We’re Still Behind)

In the Louisville area, 25.4 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree—moving Louisville ahead of two peer cities in an annual progress report on educational attainment.

But even with that progress toward the city’s top economic development goal, Louisville still ranks 14th out of 16. In last year’s report, Louisville ranked last.

The KentuckianaWorks Human Capital Scorecard—released Wednesday—looked at Census data from 2009 to 2011.

The Scorecard states that Louisville is making progress, but not at the sort of rate that makes getting out of the bottom tier appear inevitable anytime soon, said Michael Gritton, executive director of KentuckianaWorks, which released the study.

“The analogy I like to use is it’s a little bit like we’re the Vanderbilt football team,” Gritton said. “We’re not last in the SEC anymore, maybe we’ve gone to a minor bowl game, but we’re still not beating the Alabamas, the Auburns or the LSUs.”

The number of people in the Louisville area is important beyond the studies stating that degree-holders earn more money. Companies looking to start up or relocate do these sorts of comparisons to figure out the strength of the employee pool in an area.

Stacked up to peer cities, Louisville is looking better—but it’s not close to topping the list.

“I think there’s a big picture policy question that both Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky really have to try to answer, which is, ‘If we’re behind in this race, how is it that we’re going to make the investments that get us to move faster than our competitors?’” Gritton said.

Higher Education Investment Needed?

The Scorecard relates well to the city’s 55,000 Degrees Initiative that, as the name suggests, is trying to get Louisville to 55,000 college degree-holders by 2020.  They seem to be helping, Gritton said.

Louisvillians appear to be doing their part to raise those numbers—they’re going to school.

But investments in higher education are needed. State schools have endured budget cuts over the past decade, tuition has risen and financial aid is lagging, too.

Colleges in the Louisville area are doing well considering those constraints, Gritton notes.

“But all of our competitors are doing the same thing,” he said. “So there’s nothing you can point to that says, ‘Oh, here’s something we’re doing in Louisville, or here is something we’re doing in Kentucky, that sets us apart from our competition.’ And, ultimately, if we can’t point to things like that, then it’s very hard to figure out how this picture is going to change in the next 10 years. 

“Again, slow but steady progress may be enough, but I don’t think that’s true.”

More Stats

Louisville ranks ninth among 16 peer cities (those cities/areas are listed below) in the percentage of college-level degrees awarded per capita. That said, Louisville’s was the only area that improved in that area.

(They’re looking at the Louisville Metropolitan Statistical Area—basically, Jefferson County and all of the surrounding counties, too.)

Nearly 31 percent of Louisville-area adults in the 25- to 34-year-old range have bachelors; again, that’s improvement from the 26.4 percent reported in 2005-07. 

It’s also the best gain of any of Louisville’s peer cities, KentuckianaWorks said.

Another point of note—a 14 percent increase from 2010 of people in the Louisville area with the master’s, bachelor’s and associate degrees. Those are called STEM fields, for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which KentuckianaWorks said are “most directly related to long-term economic development.” The average growth among the 16 peer cities was 12 percent.

The Scorecard notes that college enrollment in the Louisville area increased between 2007 and 2009—but that trend appears to have plateaued.

In a statement, Mayor Greg Fischer said: ““Lifelong learning is absolutely the most crucial ingredient for Louisville’s future success because it links directly to jobs and quality of life. It’s encouraging that our collective effort is paying off, but there is clearly a huge amount of work to be done.” 

Those peer cities are Indianapolis, Lexington, Nashville, Cincinnati, Raleigh; Columbus; Kansas City; Charlotte; Omaha; Richmond, Jacksonville, Birmingham, Greensboro, N.C., Memphis and Dayton.

Here’s a list from KentuckianaWorks on where Louisville stacks up in percentage of people 25 and older who have a bachelor’s degree from 2009 to 2011:

  1. Raleigh-Cary, NC 41.3%
  2. Lexington-Fayette, KY 33.6%
  3. Columbus, OH 33.0%
  4. Kansas City, MO-KS 32.7%
  5. Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, NC-SC 32.6%
  6. Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 32.5%
  7. Richmond, VA 31.7%
  8. Indianapolis, IN 30.8%
  9. Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro, TN 30.4%
  10. Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 29.3%
  11. Jacksonville, FL 27.1%
  12. Birmingham-Hoover, AL 27.1%
  13. Greensboro-High Point, NC 26.1%
  14. Louisville, KY-IN 25.4%
  15. Memphis, TN-MS-AR 25.0%
  16. Dayton, OH 24.8%

You can read the full report here.

(Image via Shutterstock)

Joseph Lord

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

@joseph_Lord

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