Education is one of the most important determinants of economic success, a fact that the recent economic downturn brought into sharp relief. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has shown that better-educated segments of the population have significantly lower unemployment rates than the population at large.
A U.S. News analysis of Census data shows that Boulder, Colo., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Washington, D.C., are at the top of the list of the nation's most-educated cities. The ranking takes into account the shares of the population 25 years of age and older with post-secondary degrees, weighted by the length of time often required to obtain those various degrees.
The list is a mix of small metropolitan areas that are also home to large universities and large cities whose leading industries demand highly educated workers. For example, Boulder has a population of barely 300,000 but a university that employs thousands and is host to nearly 30,000 degree-seeking students, many of whom are graduate students and already have at least one degree. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C.'s workforce is dominated by the federal government, which has many offices and agencies that require highly educated workers. San Jose, likewise, is at the heart of Silicon Valley, where software engineers work for companies like IBM and Cisco.
Based on a U.S. News analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, these are the 10 most-educated metropolitan areas (population 300,000 or greater, as of 2009) in the United States.
1. Boulder, Colo.
2. Ann Arbor, Mich.
3. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Va.-Md.-W.V.
4. Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.
5. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.
6. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.
7. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif.
8. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.-N.H.
9. Madison, Wis.
10. Raleigh-Cary, N.C.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, 2009.
Methodology: Shares of population with various levels of higher education degrees were weighted for time needed to achieve each degree—associate's, two years; bachelor's, four years; master's, six years; professional, 7.5 years (average of three-year law degree and four-year medical degree, plus bachelor's); doctorate, nine years—then added together for each metro area.
As one might expect, these cities have also weathered hard economic times well—some extraordinarily so. As of June, 8 of the 10 most-educated metropolitan areas had unemployment levels well below the national rate of 9.2 percent. The remaining two metro areas, San Jose and San Francisco, had rates of 10.5 and 10.0 percent, respectively. Though higher than the national rate, it is important to note that California was hit particularly hard by the recent recession and slow recovery, with a state jobless rate of 12.1 percent in June, making San Jose and San Francisco's unemployment figures look much better in comparison.