If you look at the highest education levels across the 150 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., as WalletHub has, one overarching geographical trend emerges: the two coasts boast the smartest Americans-with a full 45% located in East Coast states, seconded by West Coast states with 30% (California is well represented there). Three out of 20 are located in the Midwest, and both the Southeast and the South claim one each. WalletHub's methodology includes two major considerations: the "educational attainment" rank for each metro area and the "quality of education and attainment gap" rank. In plain English, attainment (weighted at 80%) refers to how many people have at least a high school diploma, how many have at least a bachelor's degree, and on up the chain through graduate school. Quality of education (weighted at 20%) is a little more nuanced and takes in the public school rankings in that metro area, average number of universities, enrollment, as well as racial and gender gaps. Why is this list important? Educated metro areas mean an educated workforce-and that's the kind of intel employers want before choosing where to expand their operations. Those metro areas also translate to decent schools (remember, those public school rankings are embedded in the methodology)--and that's useful for young parents to know. Sure, there are certified geniuses living all over the country, but this top 20 list is a snapshot of where they tend to congregate.
Rambling up I-91 on the way to Vermont, Hartford is always a sign that you're halfway there. It's also a beacon of smartness--with no fewer than eight institutions of higher education, it ranks 22 out of 150 in the nation on educational attainment, and 45 out of 150 on quality of education and detectable gaps in attainment among women and minority groups.
Just over 100 miles northwest of #20, New York's capital comes in 18 out of 150 for educational attainment, and 47 out of 150 for quality of education and attainment gaps. With nearly 1 million people in the metro area, Albany puts those smart people to work in the thriving health care, technology, and-you guessed it-government sectors.
This list wouldn't make sense without an appearance by Charm City's metro area, which notably claims Johns Hopkins University, as well as 12 other colleges and universities. It comes in just one point about the Hartford area in educational attainment (21 out of 150) and, impressively, 22 out of 150 for quality of education and attainment gap.
The Mile High City, along with its metro area, is 14 out of 150 for educational attainment-one of two Colorado metro areas to break into the Top 20--and a middling 75 out of 150 in quality of education and attainment gap. The state's economy primarily runs on manufacturing, with agriculture, tourism, and mining close behind, making it a hub for all the business that collect around making things and producing raw materials for the rest of the country.
In the shadow of Pike's Peak, Colorado Springs boasts about half a million people and military and high tech installations that drive the local economy. No wonder it's 12 out of 150 for educational attainment (if only 85 out of 150 for quality of education and attainment gap).
One of three metro areas in the Top 20 to cross state borders, the broader "Minneapple" is a solid 11 out of 150 for educational attainment. The metro area boasts no fewer than 17 colleges and universities (many of them smaller, private institutions) and--along with Ann Arbor, Mich.--is a major Midwest intellectual powerhouse that bests Chicago (hovering at 29 overall in the nation).
The "research triangle," which encompasses Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, is a major brain trust in the U.S., whose economy was buoyed even during the recession and whose influence over the technology industry in the U.S. continues to grow. Raleigh breaks the Top 10 for educational attainment (at number nine), and comes in at 87 out of 150 in quality of education and attainment gap.
The Trenton metro area pulls in Princeton University--so, right there, it's clear why it comes in at 13 overall on the list. But, Mercer County also pulls in six other bastions of wonkiness (including the Institute for Advanced Study), with the ripple effect of making the Trenton area 16 out of 150 for educational attainment and a respectable 23 out of 150 for quality of education and attainment gap.
There are more people in the Bridgeport, Stamford, and Norwalk metro area than anywhere else in Connecticut. Parts are leafy, parts are undeniably urban, but on par, it comes in 6 out of 150 in the nation for educational attainment (although it lags behind in quality of education and attainment gap-coming in near-last at 148).
The panhandle of Florida is defined by three major cities-Jacksonville in the east, Pensacola in the west, and Tallahassee (the state's capital, and home to two Division 1 teams, Florida State University and Florida A&M University). The metro region breaks in to the Top 20 right at number 20 for educational attainment, and, proudly, 6 for quality of education and attainment gap.
The metro region that's home to Microsoft and Boeing--brainiacs galore--is also 13 out of 150 for educational attainment and 30 out of 150 for quality of education and attainment gap. Ringing in the Top 10 overall, the Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue area is dominated by the aerospace and technology industries and, unsurprisingly, the Port of Seattle--second largest cargo point in the U.S.
Austin keeps it "weird," as the slogan goes, but also keeps it attractive for scholars with no fewer than ten area universities and colleges (including the University of Texas at Austin). Smart graduates stay on, too-making it 15 in the nation for educational attainment. The trickle-down effect is also predictable when those post-graduates raise a family there with excellent K-12 schools (12 out of 150 in the nation for quality of education and attainment gap).
On the eastern banks of Utah Lake, and only 45 miles south of Salt Lake City, the Provo/Orem metro area boasts six colleges and universities (including Brigham Young). Tenth in the nation for educational attainment and 8 out of 150 for quality of education and attainment gap, it's a sobering example of American education at its best.
The Bay Area draws associations to counter-culture America, a strong import/export commercial legacy, a maritime culture, banking, and a technology hub that has defines one of the great economic successes in global history. No wonder it's stacked with smart people--8 in the nation for educational attainment, and 48 for quality of education and attainment gap.
The Boston metro area's radius is at least 60 miles, taking in most of eastern Massachusetts and coastal New Hampshire, as well as more than 50 colleges and universities within a 30 minute drive in all directions. It's no wonder the Boston metro area is 7 in the nation for educational attainment and 17 for quality of education and attainment gap.
The state's capital (home to one of the largest, record-breaking July 4th fireworks displays in the country) defines an area that's 4 out of 150 for educational attainment (there are four major colleges and universities there) and 19 for quality of education and attainment gap. And, yes, dairy--especially cheese--is a thing there. It's not an exaggeration.
The other two-thirds of the "research triangle" (along with Raleigh), Durham/Chapel Hill is 5 in the nation for educational attainment (meaning a ton of very educated people) and 2 in the nation for quality of education and attainment gap (meaning very good public schools and favorable conditions for all students--not just one group over others).
The San Jose metro area is synonymous with Silicon Valley, cossetted by rolling hills and 50 miles southeast of the Bay Area (#7 in the Top 20)--and is an impressive 3 out of 150 for educational attainment, as well as 3 for quality education and attainment gap.
We should all feel lucky that smart people go to the Washington, D.C. metro area to work for the government--so much so that it's 2 out of 150 for educational attainment (all those Ph.D. policy wonks). It's also 26 out of 150 for quality education and attainment gap, which is also nothing to sneeze at.
There are barely 100,000 residents in Ann Arbor, but it comes in first overall, first in attainment, and first in quality education. Yes, the University of Michigan is located there, but all the cities on this list have world-class universities. What makes it special is that the broader culture and entire population of Ann Arbor deeply values education at all levels. And, to call it an intellectual Shangri-La is not an overstatement at all.