You read about it on Twitter and Facebook, and just maybe at TBO.com: Lakeland makes blog’s ‘least educated’ cities list. If you look deeper, that wasn’t the story…
In January 2009, I looked into an article in the Orlando Sentinel:
If you read yesterday’s Sentinel, you would have found this headline: “National survey ranks Orlando 4th most popular city in U.S.”
Read the report and you find only 34% stated they would like to live in Orlando. You have to ask why the Sentinel is so happy with a report that also states 65%(1) of those surveyed would not like to live in Orlando. — 65% Surveyed Rather NOT Live in Orlando
You can read the rest at your leisure. The gist was..there are numerous ways to look at studies and the numbers they spit out. Well, another study has hit closer to home. Yesterday, TBO.com reported “Lakeland makes blog’s ‘least educated’ cities list”(1)
Let’s look behind the headline.
Lakeland, which boasts such institutions of higher learning as the more than century-old Florida Southern College, has garnered a spot on an online blog’s list of the nation’s least educated cities.
The Huffington Post’s ranking was based on the percentage of residents who are at least 25 and hold four-year college degrees. The ranking was based on Brookings Institution research.
Was TBO reporting on research performed by a lowly blog? It was more insidious, they were reporting on what the Huffington Post found. No, the “blog” was merely reporting research from the Brookings Institution. Evidently, TBO.com found the Huffington Post, er, post, more interesting that the original data.
The chase is on. Let’s spend five minutes and go to the source. It’s very easy to do. The Brookings Institute not only publishes informative summaries, but they offer interactive data maps and the data in easily downloaded files. You can check my numbers when I’m finished.
Bear with me for three points before we get to the numbers. First, note where the Brookings Institute gets their raw data: “Source: Brookings Institution analysis of Census 2000, U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates Program, and 2008 American Community Survey data”
Second, the ACS is a Bureau of the Census sampling initiative. Basically, they send a questionnaire to a sub-set of the population and extrapolate information. It’s both a science and an art.
Finally, each time TBO.com mentioned “Lakeland” they were wrong. They reported the Brookings Institution numbers for the the “Lakeland-Winter Haven Metropolitan Area.” That’s a construct of the Bureau of the Census. It’s basically all of Polk County. It’s the 87th largest Metro Area tracked by the Bureau with 580,594 residents as of 2009. You can find it on a map if you like.
That’s an important point. “Lakeland” alone didn’t make the list. Lakeland, Winter Haven, Bartow, Polk City, and a lot of small towns, suburbs and rural areas made the list. In many cases, Brookings went to a bit of trouble to show how residents of the cities and suburbs attained different levels of education.
So, we know where we stand? 2000 Census numbers that included “everyone,” a 2008 ACS sample, and different results by place of residence. Given that, what was the real news?
Yes, looking at the full Lakeland-Winter Haven Metro Area, the percentage of population age 25 and over with Bachelor’s Degree in the is 18.7. Yes, that’s 96th in the top 100 (by size) of American Metro Areas.
However, if you look at the primary city (Lakeland) the number of residents with a Bachelor’s Degree and above is 24.3%. That moves Lakeland up the top 100 list to 66th. Certainly not the top ten we’d like to see, but also no where near a news flash bottom five.
Is the Lakeland-Winter Haven Metro Area in the “least educated” basement? If by “educated,” you only consider Bachelor’s Degrees and above, it doesn’t fare well. Residents of just the city of Lakeland rank a bit higher. Let’s call it the ground floor. (2)
(Listing Bachelor Degree’s and above by state puts Florida 28th with 25.8%. Make Lakeland a state and it would be tied with Iowa at 37.)
But that’s not the story in the data. This is…
The Brookings Institute summarized the results of their data sifting. Here was one point they made:
All 100 of the largest metro areas experienced an increase in the share of their young adults enrolled in higher education between 2000 and 2008. Some of the largest increases occurred in older industrial metro areas of the Northeast and Midwest, suggesting that young people in these struggling economies increasingly recognize the need for a post-secondary degree to succeed in the labor market.
In 2000, 21.8% of Lakeland-Winter Haven Metro Area residents 18 to 24 were enrolled in college. In 2008, that number rose slightly to 26.2% and still finished dead last in the nation’s top 100 metro areas.
Why aren’t our students going to college?
(1) I doubt the “Huffington Post” staff would mind it being called “a blog.” but the headline short-shrifts the site. The Post easily has as much journalistic integrity as TBO.com. I doubt they’d call themselves a blog.
(2) If you list Associate’s Degrees and above, the Lakeland Metro Area is 64th. The City of Lakeland is 14th. Just .2% behind Orlando and Tampa-Clearwater-St. Pete.
If you list “Some College and above” then the Lakeland Metro Area is 58th. Just .1% behind Tampa and ahead of Orlando.
Considering High School Diploma and above; at 87.3%, Lakeland finishes 20th in the Top 100
(3) On a side note: 16.2% of the Lakeland-Winter Haven Metro residents with Bachelor Degrees or above are unemployed. High School diploma or less: 34% are unemployed.