The Journal Gazette
Sunday, December 17, 2017 1:00 am

Prime numbers

Region continues to lag state, nation in degree completion

Rachel Blakeman

Northeast Indiana residents are recognizing the value of education with a larger share of people holding a post-secondary degree and fewer stopping their education before graduating from high school, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

American Community Survey data from 2012 to 2016 show adults ages 25 and older in all 11 northeast Indiana counties improved their educational attainment when it comes to the percentage holding associate's, bachelor's, or graduate and professional degrees when compared to the previous five-year period of 2007 to 2011.

Specifically, 31.3 percent of adults in this corner of the state hold a degree, compared to 29.2 percent in 2011. The most educated county in northeast Indiana is Allen at 37.2 percent. Second place is a tie between Steuben and Wells counties at 28.7 percent. LaGrange County is at the bottom with 18.3 percent; however, it showed the largest growth of any county with a 25 percent increase from 2011's 14.6 percent.

Yet northeast Indiana is still behind state and national attainment levels – 33 percent and 38.5 percent, respectively.

The good news on high school completion: Fewer people here than nationally do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Locally, 12.7 percent of adults in 2016 did not have a diploma or its equivalent, compared to 13 percent nationally. That's a local decrease of more than 5.6 percent since 2011.

Wells County had the lowest percentage of adults who did not complete high school, at 8.8 percent, an 18.7-percent decrease from 2011. The highest? LaGrange County, at 35.7 percent. The county has a large number of Amish residents, who often end formal schooling at eighth grade.

Steuben and Whitley counties were the only ones in the region to have the percentage of people without a diploma go up between 2011 and 2016.

Drilling down on Allen County

As the most populated, educated, and racially and ethnically diverse county in northeast Indiana, it is worth looking more closely at Allen County's data and how education plays out by age, race, gender and income.

Educational attainment proves to be a significant safeguard against poverty in Allen County. For those with less than a high school diploma for whom poverty status can be determined, the rate is more than 25 percent. Bachelor's degrees or higher: 4 percent.

Earnings follow a similar path. Allen County adults whose education stopped with their high school diploma have median earnings of just more than $29,000. Contrast that with less than high school at $21,570 and $43,742 for bachelor's degree holders. Rounding out median earnings are people with some college or an associate's degree at $32,579 and graduate or professional degrees at $60,465.

High school teachers who want to encourage their students to continue their education should remind those students that a bachelor's degree holder likely could earn almost $150,000 more than a high school graduate, without accounting for inflation or the value 10 years from now of the college-wage premium, the income difference between diploma and degree holders. College may be expensive, but the wage discrepancies between college and high school graduates make not continuing schooling even more costly over time.

Nationally, women have earned more bachelor's degrees than men since 1982. Allen County data reflect a similar trend, albeit with a bit of a time lag. Here, men and women are statistically equivalent in their attainment of bachelor's degrees or higher at about 27 percent in total.

Age cohort is where the differences are revealed. In the oldest group tracked,65 or older – which translates into those born in 1951 or before – almost 29 percent of men have at minimum of a bachelor's degree with 17.5 percent of women of the same age having the same education level.

Drop to the youngest age group, ages 18 to 24, and 6 percent of men have a bachelor's degree or higher while more than 11 percent of women do. The trend of women being more educated than men continues for the 25-to-34 and 35-to-44 cohorts. Men and women ages 45 to 64 with bachelor's degrees at minimum are within the margin of error of each other.

Although women in Allen County are earning more degrees than men, they are not earning more money. Men without a high school diploma have median earnings of $25,744, yet women with a high school diploma earn a median of $22,968. And it doesn't look better for women with college degrees. Men with some college or an associate's degree earn about $5,900 more a year than women with a bachelor's degree when comparing median earnings. Jump one more level, men with bachelor's degrees and women with graduate or professional degrees, and the men make $6,000 more.

In other words, women's increased educational attainment doesn't begin to offset the pay discrepancy between genders. This Census Bureau data only tell us what is happening. They do not tell us why.

When looking at bachelor's degrees or higher, Allen County's most-educated racial group is Asians at 35.2 percent.

Non-Hispanic whites in Allen County have the highest rate of high school graduates at almost 93 percent. About 30 percent of this group holds a bachelor's degree or higher. In contrast, 65.7 percent of Asians are high school graduates.

The number of bachelor's degree holders falls precipitously for black and Hispanic residents. Those reporting as black alone are at 13.3 percent; Hispanic origin is at 11.1 percent, and both of these numbers include those with advanced degrees. Fewer than 8 percent of people classified as “some other race” have a bachelor's degree. Those identifying as two or more races fall in the midpoint between white and Hispanic at 21.3 percent.

For high school completion, blacks are at 82.4 per-cent, Hispanics lag substantially at 60.6 percent and people categorized as some other race are at 52.5 percent. Almost 90 percent of people identifying as two or more races have a high school diploma or the equivalent. The data set used for this article does not indicate how many people were educated outside the United States.

The small numbers of American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander make the reported data unreliable when evaluated against the margin of error; however, all of these groups have educational attainment far below the county's totals.

Missing data

Certificates are often mentioned as a way to upskill the workforce, although it does not constitute a degree. For example, a welding certificate is recognized as opening professional doors locally. However, the Census Bureau doesn't track this training, and other data sources have limited information.

The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, which has prioritized 60 percent of adults holding a high-quality post-secondary credential by 2025, estimates 5 percent of Hoosiers hold certificates. But there are numerous certificates available with varying value in the job market.

In sum, certificates can be valuable in the labor market but there is no good measure of how many people hold them here.

Rachel Blakeman is director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW.

Data sources, methodology

The methodology section is never the most fun to read, but don't skip over this part. It's important to understand how these numbers were calculated and why statistics elsewhere may not match the ones here.

This information came from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Data are collected from about one in every 38 households then assembled into one-year and five-year releases, covering topics including age, race, income, education levels, languages spoken at home and much more.

This past decade, the American Community Survey replaced the census “long-form” questionnaire, offering more timely data year after year instead of the once-every-10-years snapshot provided by the census. Because this is not a full census (a physical tally of all people in a population), the collected data are statistically modeled to apply to the entire geography.

For this analysis, the IPFW Community Research Institute used the five-year data for two reasons. First, the one-year estimates only include areas with populations exceeding 65,000, which leaves out many of the area's rural counties, although supplemental estimates go down to populations of 20,000. Second, the five-year data offer a larger and thus more reliable sample.

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