By Lecia Parks Langston, Senior Economist
“No economy can succeed without a high-quality workforce, particularly in an age of globalization and technical change.” Ben Bernanke
• Southwest Utah shows a higher percentage of individuals with at least a high school diploma than either the state or the nation.
• In this region, less-populated counties tend to show the highest rates of high school graduation for those 25 years and older.
• Young people are less likely to have graduated from high school than their elders.
• Southwest Utah shows a somewhat lower share of individuals with at least a bachelor’s degree or higher than both the United States and Utah.
• In Utah, there is a five-point spread between the share of women (28 percent) and men (33 percent) with at least a bachelor’s degree — the largest state-level education gap in the nation. In Southwest Utah, the education gap is even wider with women at 24 percent and men at 30 percent.
• Iron and Washington counties display the highest shares of population with at least a four-year, post-secondary degree in Southwest Utah.
• Kane and Beaver counties show a higher percentage of women in a college degree than men.
• Those 65 and older are the most likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher in this area. However, much of this trend can be traced directly to Washington County where a whopping 41 percent of those with a graduate or professional degree are over the age of 65.
• In Southwest Utah, as elsewhere, the higher an individual’s educational attainment, the less likely they are to be unemployed. • Higher educational attainment is associated with higher earnings.
• Women with college degrees typically experience a smaller wage gap when compared with men in the southwest corner of Utah.
• Veterans typically show higher educational attainment than the nonveteran population in Southwest Utah.
This article highlights the educational attainment data for Southwest Utah. Figures are taken from the just-released Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) five-year average figures for 2010-2014. The five-year average is the only data set available for small counties and provides comparability across regions.
You’ll notice from the visualization that there’s a lot of data available. This article will cover the information with broad brush strokes. Those truly interested in the educational attainment of a particular region can use the visualization to dig even deeper. However, keep in mind that the survey margins of error (available from the Census Bureau) for small counties might be considerable and should be used with a caution.
Where all the graduates are above average…Utah does a great job of graduating students from high school. Roughly 90 percent of those over 18 years old have a high school diploma or equivalency compared to 86 percent nationally. Southwest Utah performs just slightly better than the state with 91 percent of that age group with at least a high school education. When only those over 25 years old are counted, the rate rises to 92 percent.
In Southwest Utah, less-populated counties tend to show the highest rates of high school graduation for those 25 years and older. Kane County (96 percent) and Beaver County (92 percent) show the highest shares of high-school-or-higher graduates. On the other hand, although Iron County shows the highest regional share of college graduates, it maintains the lowest share (91 percent) of those with at least a high school education.
Young people are less likely to have graduated from high school than their elders. In Utah, 13 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds did not have a high school diploma compared to 10 percent of those 65 years and older. Of course, some 18 year olds would still be attending high school in their senior year. In Southwest Utah, 18 to 24 year-olds fall behind their Utah peers with 15 percent failing to graduate from high school. Interestingly, the lowest percentage of nongraduates in Southwest Utah occurs among 45 to 64 year-olds. Roughly 7 percent of this age group had failed to obtain a high school education.
While high school graduation rates measure higher in the Beehive State, Utah and the United States placed neck and neck in the percentage of those over 18 years old with at least a bachelor’s degree — 27 percent. In Southwest Utah, only 23 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. Since it usually takes a few years to earn a college degree after high school, the more pertinent measurement looks at only those 25 years and older. Using this group, Utah comes out on top with 31 percent of the population holding at least a bachelor’s degree compared to the U.S. average of 29 percent. With 27 percent of its adult population holding at least a four-year degree, Southwest Utah shows a slightly lower share than both the U.S. and Utah, but still ranks relatively high for a primarily nonurban region.
One category where Utah falls behind is the share of women who have a college degree. Nationally, 29 percent of females in this age group have a bachelor’s degree or higher — the same ratio as men. In Utah, there is a five-point spread between women (28 percent) and men (33 percent) — the largest state-level education gap in the nation. The Southwest Utah education gap measures even wider with women at 24 percent and men at 30 percent.
In the southwest corner of Utah, Washington and Iron counties dominate the bachelor’s-degree-and-higher educational shares. Home to Southern Utah University, nearly 28 percent of Iron County residents have at least a bachelor’s degree. Washington County falls in close behind with 27 percent of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree. Kane County (26 percent), Garfield County (21 percent) and Beaver County (18 percent) show lower percentages, falling in line with their population totals. In this case the smaller the population, the lower the share of college degrees. In Kane and Beaver counties, gender roles are reversed compared to the region in general. Here, women hold at least a bachelor’s degree at higher rates than men.
The age factorWith age may come wisdom, but not necessarily an education. Age can relate to educational attainment in two contrary ways. First, older individuals have had more time to complete a post-secondary degree, which would tend to increase educational attainment. In contrast, because the opportunities for a college education have improved and the demand for college-educated workers has increased, younger people may be more likely to pursue a higher education than did their elders. Both these tendencies appear in the data.
In Southwest Utah, those 65 years and older are the most likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher. This fact is heavily influenced by Washington County where a whopping 41 percent of those with graduate or professional degrees are over the age of 65. This phenomenon seems to be the result of the influx of well-educated retirees. In Utah, persons aged 35 to 44 years are the most likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher and only 19 percent of graduate/professional degrees are held by seniors. Among those 25 and older in Southwest Utah, those 25 to 34 are least likely to have at least a four-year degree. Nevertheless, very little difference can be found in the share of college degrees by age group past the age of 18.
Interestingly, 64 percent of the adult population in Southwest Utah has attended at least some college, slightly lower than the 67 percent share for Utah. Nationally, only 58 percent of the adult population can be categorized in the same group.
While women in Southwest Utah are slightly less likely than men to have a four-year degree or better, the rates of high school graduation are only marginally different. However, in both Utah and the U.S., men are more likely to be high school dropouts than are women.
More education? Higher earnings and less unemploymentIn Southwest Utah, as elsewhere, the higher an individual’s educational attainment, the less likely they are to be unemployed. Roughly 16 percent of those who failed to graduate from high school were unemployed in the time period compared to only 4 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees or higher. Those with at least a four-year degree made up only 14 percent of the unemployed, but 28 percent of the labor force.
The survey also provides earnings data based on educational attainment. This data does not afford an apples-to-apples comparison. The median annual earnings of all workers — full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal — are included in the tallies. A better evaluation would show earnings of just year-round, full-time workers. However, the same basic relationship consistently appears in Southwest Utah, Utah and the U.S. — the higher the educational attainment, the higher the earnings. For example, individuals with graduate/professional degrees in Washington County show median earnings almost triple the earnings of those with less than a high school education.
In Southwest Utah, women with college degrees generally experience a smaller wage gap when compared with men than those with lower levels of education. Remember that margins of error for less-populated counties can be quite large and earnings data for those areas should be used with caution.