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Manufacturing Is Good for Graduation Rates: Federal Reserve Study Getty Images

Manufacturing Is Good for Graduation Rates: Federal Reserve Study

Students whose parents never finished college are more likely to graduate from high school and college if they live in manufacturing centers of the country, rather than college-degree-intensive centers.

Manufacturing, it turns out, is good for both high school and college graduation rates.

A study by Stephan Whitaker, research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, found that students whose parents never finished college are more likely to graduate from high school and college if they live in manufacturing centers of the country, rather than college-degree-intensive centers.

Degree-intensive areas have a similarly high rate of college graduates among children with parents without degrees, but they have a lower rate of high school graduates. And non-degree areas without a high manufacturing base are lower in education attainment across the board.

The top five manufacturing centers of the country, based on population and occupation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are, in descending order,  Hickory, N.C. (33.3% of its workforce in manufacturing); Huntsville, Ala.; South Bend, Ind.; St. Cloud, Minn.; and Erie, Pa. The top degree-intensive centers are Washington, Ann Arbor, Mich., Tallahassee, Fla., Athens, Ga., and Boulder, Colo.*

Whitaker has done research in the past on changes in education levels in different metro areas. From that research, he noticed that the fortunes of different geographic areas of the country rest, to a degree, on whether people with college degrees are migrating there.

“There is a big disconnect between where human capital is produced and then where it is employed,” he says. With the current study, “I wanted to take a step back and say, “What areas are producing human capital in the form of college and high school graduates?”

The ‘whys’ of high educational attainment in manufacturing centers bear more study, says Whitaker. At first, he guessed that one reason manufacturing centers boosted families’ education levels was that more and more, manufacturing jobs actually require college degrees. But when he adjusted his model to account for the 10 to 15% of manufacturing areas like Silicon Valley with a high percent of manufacturing-related college degrees, the graduation rates went down only slightly.

“There’s definitely been an upskilling in manufacturing, but I can’t say that’s what’s motivating young people to get more degrees,” says Whitaker.

One factor could be that “as manufacturing has declined, it has declined less in relatively advantaged areas,” says Whitaker. “If you just take raw high school graduation rates by states, the higher states are generally Upper Midwest—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska.* And those areas have also retained relatively high shares of manufacturing.”

Or that manufacturing families themselves value education and push their children to get through school, and those students “are also desirable employees of manufacturers, so they keep their plants there.”

The study concludes that if “raising high school attainment is a priority, local leaders may need to direct more resources toward manufacturing.”

*Material supplied by the study's author initially incorrectly stated that Harrisburg, Pa., is the No. 1 degree-intensive city. 

*"Nebraska" was initially mistakenly reported as "Alaska."

 

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