Updated: 2:17 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011 | Posted: 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011

Ohio trails U.S. average for four-year degrees

The state ranks 36th for residents who have college diplomas.

By Ken McCall and  Randy Tucker

Staff Writers

The number of Ohioans earning college degrees — considered the key to higher wages and a better standard of living — inched up last year but still lags most of the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released today.

The share of Ohio residents 25 years and older with at least a bachelor’s degree increased by 0.5 percentage points from 2009 to 2010 to reach 24.6 percent, a Dayton Daily News analysis of American Community Survey data found.

That was significantly lower than the college degree attainment of the nation, 28.2 percent, and was only enough to tie five other states — New Mexico, Iowa, South Carolina, Idaho and Wyoming — for 36th place.

The rankings look at the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

During the decade, Ohio’s share of college-educated adults increased by 3.5 percentage points. But that was also below the nation’s increase of 3.8 percent, and indicates Ohio has been slow to keep up with employers’ evolving work force needs.

“There are two levels of employment here,’’ said Jeff Noble, CEO of the executive placement firm MRINetwork Management Recruiters of Dayton. “You don’t need a degree for the hourly jobs that exist here, but we’ve seen a vast reduction in those types of opportunities,’’ said Noble, who also owns Noble Staffing Solutions, which serves the industrial labor market. “On the other end of the spectrum where we work, without a degree I can’t help you. If you don’t have a degree, the client company isn’t even going to be interested. And they often require even a master’s on top of a bachelor’s degree.’’

According to the Census Bureau, Ohio was also below the nation’s share of adults with an advanced college degree. Ohio’s rate was 8.9 percent last year, compared to 10.4 percent for the nation as a whole.

The state fared better when it came to the percentage of people older than 25 who have a high school diploma. The percentage of Ohioans 25 and older who have graduated from high school — 88.1 percent in 2010 — was significantly higher than the national rate of 85.6 percent and put the state in a statistical tie with seven other states for 21st place.

But the improvement in high school graduation rates will do little to bring the American Dream closer to reality for significantly more Ohioans, experts say.

“The true way to improve the standard of living in any state is to keep the focus on educating the work force,’’ said Bill Even, a labor economist at Miami University. “The gap between the earnings for those without at a high school degree and those with a high school or college degree is just continuing to grow, and I don’t see that reversing in the near future.’’

Over the course of a career, a college degree is worth nearly $1 million more in lifetime earnings than a high school diploma, according to a recent report from the Census Bureau.

And workers with master’s degrees and above are projected to earn $1.3 million more than high school graduates throughout their working lives, the report found.

Mismatches between the supply and demand for educated workers will also hinder the economic recovery. A recent Brookings Institution report found that metro areas with the largest gaps in educated workers relative to employer demand also had the highest unemployment rates.

In 2009, the difference in unemployment rates between workers with at least a bachelor’s degree and those with a high school diploma or less ranged from 2.8 percentage points in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to 14.7 percentage points in Detroit, the report found.

In Dayton, the unemployment rate for workers with college degrees was 3.8 percent, while the rate for those with high school diplomas or less was 14.3 percent.

Miami’s Even thinks Ohio could do more to open the doors of higher learning to more students.

“If you look at Ohio’s support for higher education, we rank 41st out of 50 states in terms of the amount of money the states give per full-time student,’’ Even said, based on his analysis of Census Bureau data. “We’re pretty far down the list as far as support for higher ed. You combine that with the fact that our average incomes are lower relative to the rest of the country, and, on average, we’re probably going to see fewer kids coming out of high school who are able to afford college degrees in Ohio.’’

 
 

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