Not the South

What is most disturbing about the “we should be like the South” mantra is that, by and large, these are the lowest education attainment states in the country. Most of those who advocate becoming like the South also say that Michigan can’t be successful unless we substantially increase the proportion of our adults with post secondary education. One wonders whether they really mean it.

The BEA (the statistical agency of the US Department of Commerce) defines the South as 12 states. Here is how they rank in terms of college attainment: Virginia 6th (the only one above the national average), Georgian 20th, North Carolina 25th, Florida 31st, South Carolina 37th, Tennessee 41st, Alabama 45th, Louisiana 46th, Kentucky 47th, Mississippi 48th, Arkansas 49th and West Virginia 50th. That’s right: seven of the bottom ten in proportion of adults with a four year degree are in the South. Eight of the 12 are below Michigan which is a dreadful 36th. So much for education attainment being a priority for Michigan if these are the states we should emulate.

For those of you who think Texas is in the South they rank 30th. And for those who think Indiana is a model for Michigan they rank 43rd.

And because they are low education attainment states, the South (and Texas and Indiana) with the exception of Virginia is characterized by low per capita incomes and high poverty rates. On the other hand, high education states are, by and large, high prosperity states. Of the top 15 states in the proportion of adults with a four year degree 13 are also in the top 15 in per capita income. (The other two are 16th and 21st.)

If your goal is a high prosperity Michigan – a Michigan with a broad middle class and low poverty – the path is clear. We need to become a high education attainment state.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Lou, if you checked the county level data on ed attainment for Virginia and N Carolina, I would bet you a lunch that in VA case, the ed attainment drops off significantly the further you get from DC, and in the NC case, the further out you are from Research Triangle. Keep up the message!

    1. Doug, Thanks. You are almost certainly right. The pattern across the country is that college educated adults are concentrated in big metros. The least college educated places are small towns and rural areas. It is pretty interesting that, even though work can be done more and more anywhere, both college educated adults and knowledge-based enterprises are increasingly concentrating in big metros. It is highly likely that that pattern holds true in both Virginia and North Carolina.

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