The accolades for Denver just keep rolling in. Mere weeks after U.S. News & World Report named us the best place to live in the United States, Forbes has decided that the Denver Metro Area (which for this list also includes Aurora and Lakewood) is the 16th-most educated urban area in the country. That ties us with Portland, Oregon, and places us just behind Austin, Texas. Colorado Springs fared even better, placing fifth overall.
Ann Arbor, Michigan ranked first on Forbes‘ list, followed by Washington, DC, which hasn’t exactly been showcasing its cranial chops this election season. Forbes used metrics such as percentage of residents with certain degrees, public school rankings, quality of universities, and racial and gender disparities to determine which areas have the highest concentration of brainiacs. Not surprisingly, college towns and technology hubs scored particularly high in these rankings, while Southern and Bible Belt towns and some communities in the rural West scored lowest. (Colorado had no cities among the 25 least educated.)
That Denver and Colorado Springs would rank so high isn’t too surprising when you consider our wide range of higher education options and emerging tech economy. But it is surprising when you consider that our state has recently ranked far lower in areas such as per capita state government expenditures on all education (36th in 2011–12), state and local expenditures (39th), per capita expenditures for state and local governments on public K-12 schooling (37th), and on higher education (26th). All this despite the fact that Colorado had the third-fastest growth in public school enrollment as recently as 2013. (This entire report from the National Education Association can be found here.)
These disparities partly explain the so-called “Colorado paradox,” which reflects the fact that we’re luring an unusually high percentage of smarty-pants transplants to our state but doing a lousy job of educating the kids who are already here. Of course, there’s plenty of debate about whether more funding automatically results in a more highly educated populace. But there’s little debate that we could be doing a whole lot better in many educational areas, whether the key to that is more charter schools, more public funds for all levels, or some TBD door number three. Lists like these might make us feel good about our geographical life choices, but we still have a long way to go if we want our kids to be as well-prepared for the future as Colorado’s adults are for the present.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on twitter at @LucHatlestad.
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