U.S. Uncovered: Brain Bounty or Brain Busted?


Interesting look at the smartest regions in our country.Durham, NC ranks #4.

Brain Bounty or Brain Busted?
by G. Scott Thomas Dec 01 2010
How smart is your community? If it’s anything like Boulder, Colorado, then it’s tops in terms of brainpower, according to a Portfolio.com survey of the 200 largest U.S. markets.

It pays to have a college diploma—and preferably more than one.

The U.S. Census Bureau says a worker with an advanced degree will earn 31 percent more than a colleague with a bachelor’s degree and 128 percent more than somebody who never went beyond high school.

That’s good news for the workforce in Boulder, Colorado, the U.S. metropolitan area with the strongest brainpower, according to a new Portfolio.com analysis of the nation’s 200 largest markets. The study’s objective was to identify markets that have the highest levels of collective brainpower, as indicated by their residents’ educational attainment.

Boulder, which is 25 miles northwest of Denver, is blessed with an economic mix that places a premium on education. It’s not only the home of the University of Colorado, but also is a burgeoning hub for high-technology, electronics and aerospace companies.

The result is a broadly educated workforce. Five of every six adults in the Boulder area (82.5 percent) have attended college, the strongest concentration in the study group. And 26 percent of Boulder’s residents hold master’s, doctoral, or professional degrees, also the highest figure in the country.

Portfolio.com used U.S. Census Bureau data to analyze the levels of educational attainment in 200 metros, ranging in size from New York City to Burlington, Vermont.

The study assigned point values to five rungs of an educational ladder, ranging from high-school dropouts to holders of advanced degrees. The score for a given market depended on the percentage of adult residents (25 or older) on each rung. The higher the score, the stronger a market’s collective brainpower.

Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Washington, D.C., are the runners-up in the brainpower standings.

For a slideshow of the 25 smartest U.S. metropolitan areas, click here. And to get the entire list comparing 200 markets, download a PDF here.

Ann Arbor, the site of the University of Michigan, is second to Boulder in the concentration of adults who attended college (77.4 percent) and the share who hold advanced degrees (25.5 percent).

The federal government, lobbying organizations, and major law firms attract thousands of educated workers to Washington, where 47.3 percent of adults hold at least a bachelor’s degree. The only two markets to outrank it in that category are Boulder (57.9 percent) and Ann Arbor (49.5 percent).

Rounding out the top five in the national brainpower rankings are the college centers of Durham, North Carolina, and Fort Collins, Colorado. The Durham market includes Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, while Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University.

Portfolio.com followed Census Bureau guidelines in designing an educational ladder. The following are the five rungs, with average annual earnings for all workers, both full-time and part-time, at each level (as of 2007) in parentheses:

  • Advanced degree ($61,287), including professional, doctoral, or master’s degree
  • Bachelor’s degree ($46,805)
  • Associate degree or attended college without any degree ($32,874)
  • High-school graduate ($26,894)
  • High-school dropout ($19,405)

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