Editorial: More jobs for college grads

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

A new study shows that, while Lawrence is a leader in producing college graduates, it’s terrible at putting those graduates to work.

That’s a statistic needing to be reversed if Lawrence and Kansas are ever going to slow the brain drain of college graduates leaving for jobs in other communities and other states.

An analysis from The Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, shows that Lawrence has the worst labor “market mix match” of any metropolitan area in the country. The labor market mix match is the difference between the percentage of college graduates in a community and the percentage of jobs that require a college degree. In Lawrence, the mix match is a whopping 32.4 points, ranking the city No. 378 of 378 metro areas.

Fifty-two percent of Lawrence residents have a four-year degree, which ranks the city fifth on the list of metro areas. Only fellow college towns Boulder, Colo.; Ames, Iowa; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Corvallis, Ore., rank higher.

But in terms of the number of jobs in the community that require a four-year degree, Lawrence comes in with just 19.6 percent, putting the city in a tie for 231st with Rapid City, S.D. In fact, none of the cities Lawrence is clustered with — Asheville, N.C.; Bristol, Tenn.; Jackson, Tenn.; Glens Falls, N.Y.; and Chico, Calif. — are major college towns.

By contrast, several major college towns — Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.; Boulder; Ann Arbor; Tallahassee, Fla.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Madison, Wis. — rank among the top 20 metro areas in terms of jobs requiring a college degree.

Further, Lawrence trails every metro area in Kansas — Manhattan, Topeka and Wichita — in terms of the number of jobs requiring a college degree.

Lawrence produces college graduates like a college town, but it creates jobs like a tourist town. Indeed, one of the communities that ranks just ahead of Lawrence is Beaufort and Hilton Head Island, S.C., where 38 percent of the residents have college degrees but just 15.9 percent of the jobs require a degree for a mix match of 22.1.

Only one other community in the country has a mix match higher than 30 — State College, Pa., has a mix match of 31.3.

Not to make too much of one analysis, but the Urban Institute has identified perhaps Lawrence’s most pressing issue: The community is creating a workforce it doesn’t have the jobs to support. There are no easy answers. But as Lawrence turns over several of its top leadership positions at the city, county and Lawrence chamber of commerce, incoming leaders should make addressing this a top priority.

It can be done. For proof, Lawrence need look no further than to its many college-town peers where that percentage of jobs requiring a four-year degree is five, 10 and even 15 points higher than in Lawrence.

Correction: A previous version of this editorial included an incorrect reference to the Pennsylvania college town with a mix match of 31.3. It is State College, Pa.


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