WASHINGTON – Howard County had the country’s highest percent of adults with a high school diploma last year, while nearby Baltimore City had one of the lowest rates, according to a new Census Bureau report.
The Census said Thursday that 95.1 percent of Howard County residents over age 25 had a high school diploma, the most of the 231 communities surveyed by the bureau. Finishing in 226th place was Baltimore City, where just 69.4 percent of adults had completed high school.
Nationally, 82.6 percent of people over age 25 had either a high school diploma or their GED — General Educational Development — credential.
“It’s pretty distressing to hear that statistic,” said Jane Sundius, program officer for education and needs development at the Open Society Institute–Baltimore.
Howard County officials pointed to the high-tech industry in the county — it is home to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Verizon Wireless and the Arbitron Co., among others — which they said helps attract wealthy and educated residents.
“We have the highest percentage of workers who have professional, scientific kinds of jobs,” based on a study of 20 other high-performing counties, said Richard Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.
“The assumption is that people who are more affluent tend to be more educated and therefore more involved in their children’s education, and other community structures,” Story said.
That is evidenced in the county’s schools, which graduate 93 percent of students, 80 percent of whom continue on to college.
But a schools spokeswoman said that high graduation rates do not fully explain the high concentration of high school graduates living in the county. Many students leave the county after graduation and it is not known how many return, said Patti Caplan.
“We have so many new people moving to the area that this is may be more linked to economic development,” said Caplan. “It does say a lot about who chooses to live here.”
The county’s high cost of living also “requires people to have a certain level of education in order to be employed in a job with the type of salary that living here would require,” she said.
But while Howard County has smart people moving in, Baltimore City has smart people moving out — and the city has a low high school graduation rate to begin with, Sundius said. The graduation rate of Baltimore City schools was 54.7 percent in 2003, the third straight decline, according to the state Department of Education.
“Baltimore is a city that has been undergoing population loss,” she said. “Usually, more-educated people have the opportunity to move out and the people left behind tend more to be people with limited education and skill.”
Baltimore is also the poorest region in the area, with a median household income of $30,078, according to the Census. The prevalent lack of education translates into a lack of economic and social opportunities, Sundius said.
“We know that if students don’t graduate from high school they will be marginalized in society. It will be very hard for them to participate fully,” she said.
The relationship between wealth and education was also reflected across the nation. The Census reported that the three states with the highest rate of adult high school graduates — Alaska, Minnesota and New Hampshire — are also among states with the highest median income in 2002.
Other Maryland counties ranked in the Census survey included Montgomery County, which finished in 24th place (91.3 percent of adults had high school diplomas); Baltimore County, which finished 90th (87.2 percent); Anne Arundel County, in 109th place (86.1 percent); and Prince George’s County, which was 147th (84.1 percent).
Howard County rose five places in the rankings from last year, when it was sixth of 220 counties surveyed. Baltimore City fell from 211 to 226.