Philadelphia Has Added 50,000 College Grads — But How Many Grew Up Here?

A large number of black residents with four year-degrees are transplants.



Between 2007, when Mayor Nutter took office, and 2013, the ratio of Philadelphians with at least a bachelor’s degree grew by 17 percent. There are now more than 50,000 additional people in the city with a four-year degree or better.

But there’s a new a new data analysis from the National Equity Atlas that raises some unsettling questions about the makeup of Philadelphia’s new degree-holding cohort. Not only does the study point out a persistent racial disparity in educational attainment among urban residents, it also suggests that many cities that have gained African American degree-holders have done so principally through migration. In other words, while some cities are attracting professional-track black residents, not many homegrown black urban residents are joining the ranks of four-year degree holders.

Importing young, bright minds has helped bolster Philly’s reputation as a destination city for Millennial transplants — and simultaneously, pushed down the unemployment rate — but the city’s long-term economic viability relies on homegrown educational attainment, according to a National Journal report on the data analysis:

Importing a skilled workforce is a strategy that mayors across the country eagerly endorse. While that has allowed these … metro areas to flourish in the short-term, long-term economic growth isn’t sustainable for any city that relies mainly on hiring talent from elsewhere

The article looked at the 36 metro areas with at least 200,000 black residents,  The data shows that about 18 percent of African Americans in the Philadelphia metro have four-year degrees or better. The three large metros with the highest share of four-year degree holding black residents were Washington D.C. (31 percent), Atlanta (28 percent) and Raleigh (27 percent). At the bottom of the pack were Milwaukee and Cleveland, both at 14 percent.

Clearly Philadelphia is nearer the back of the pack than the front.

The analysis looked at metro areas, not individual cities, but suffice it to say that the numbers would be lower still if the city of Philadelphia were examined alone. 2013 research from the Urban League of Philadelphia put the city’s ratio of four-year-degree having black residents at 11.8 percent. And the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males just last year estimated that only 16 percent of black men have a two-year degree or higher.

So while more college-educated residents is great, it’s worth zooming in on who actually has these degrees. In Philadelphia, it would seem a lot are held by recent transplants. Between 2008 and 2013, there were 36,114 people with bachelor’s or graduate degrees who moved here, according to Census data. (That doesn’t account for the net loss in people with degrees leaving the city.) Meanwhile, only 10 percent of first-time ninth graders from our public high schools go on to earn a two- or four-year degree within 10 years.

There’s nothing wrong and everything right with Philadelphia attracting highly-educated new residents. But this study highlights again the lack of opportunity for a lot of Philly-born kids, and serves as another reminder of the paramount importance of fixing the city’s broken school system. Within five years, 66 percent of jobs will require at least some postsecondary education, according to the National Equity Atlas estimates.

Eventually Philly won’t be able to steadily rely on importing our skilled workforce. We’ll have to foster it.