Academic journal article New England Economic Review

Geographic Shifts in Higher Education

Academic journal article New England Economic Review

Geographic Shifts in Higher Education

Article excerpt

Human capital is acknowledged to be a highly productive resource in the "knowledge-based" economy of the late twentieth century. In addition to being a key driver of national economies, it has been recognized as a factor in determining regional fortunes. Discussing New England's economic success in the past quarter century, for example, a recent study issued by this Bank concluded as follows: "The coincidence of the rapid growth in the 1970s of high technology industries and the entry into the labor force of the highly educated baby boomers seems more than pure coincidence. The baby boomers provided the state-of-the-art knowledge, the drive, and the imagination that were necessary to make fledgling companies international competitors" (Browne and Sass 1998). The authors point out that New England institutions' share of college graduates exceeded the region's share of the U.S. population, and that "once exposed to New England's scenic attractions and cultural amenities, many [of the new graduates] wanted to stay," resulting in a high share of college-educated workers in the New England work force.

The New England economy of the late 1990s is even more heavily oriented toward higher education than it was a quarter century ago. Nevertheless, concern is mounting that the supply of highly educated workers has not been adequate to meet the demands of the region's employers. The situation has worsened over the course of the 1990s, as economic recovery has created more job opportunities but the absolute number of bachelor's degrees awarded in New England has fallen, particularly in engineering and computer science (Kodrzycki 1998; Massachusetts Technology Collaborative 1998).

The skill requirements of New England employers, and their ability to draw on local colleges and universities, are not necessarily typical of other parts of the country. Nevertheless, a common complaint of businesses nationwide is that they have not been able to hire as many highly educated workers as they would like to employ, resulting in unfilled vacancies in professional and technical positions. Regardless of the traditional relationships between employers and nearby universities, many states now are reexamining how their higher educational institutions can play a larger role in the development and growth of "knowledge-based" industries (see, for example, Southern Technology Council 1998).

Colleges and universities have an effect on the availability of labor in their local area in a variety of ways, most notably in educating students who may develop work relationships with local companies and in sponsoring research and development that leads to local job opportunities.(1) This article focuses on what is arguably their largest role: supplying new graduates at the bachelor's degree level.(2) Even though the national rate of growth of college degrees has been fairly steady over much of the past 25 years, their geographic distribution has changed noticeably. In 1972, Florida institutions granted about 22,800 bachelor's degrees, two-thirds of the number graduating from Massachusetts schools and about half the number graduating in Ohio. In 1997, Florida graduated 47,500 students - approximately 7,000 more than in Massachusetts and just 1,000 shy of the total in Ohio.

Colleges and universities in different locations directly influence their "market share" by setting tuition and other student costs, offering financial aid, and establishing a variety of policies influencing both their selectivity and their quality. However, the geographic distribution of college degrees also reflects decisions made by others. Prior family location decisions determine the number of high school students in each state, and the resources of these families as well as the quality of the primary and secondary schools influence how many of these students are prepared for college. Government policies affect the affordability and accessibility of college, through tuition, fees, and other policies at public institutions. …

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