Importing a skilled workforce is a strategy that mayors across the country eagerly endorse. While that has allowed these three 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, says Kent McGuire, president of the Southern Education Foundation, and former assistant secretary of the Department of Education during the Clinton Administration. The National Equity Atlas projects that 66 percent of jobs in 2020 will require at least some post-secondary education and training.
To build a strong workforce to fill those skilled jobs, education experts say cities will need to also include local children who have so far been left behind, especially low-income and first-generation college students of color.
"We're now at a point in Georgia where you can't sustain those high attainment rates just by importing more people," says McGuire. "The challenges in Georgia, and in metro Atlanta for sure, have a lot more to do with doing a better job with the kids who are here than simply counting on lots of middle class families to move here and solve the demands of employers that way."
Educated transplants mask some of the actual low attainment levels of local students in these cities. In Washington, for example, the National Equity Atlas data shows that disparities exist between the core district and the metro area that spans 21 counties in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. In the Washington metro area, 30 percent of the U.S.-born black population holds a bachelor's degree or higher, while only 22 percent within the District do.
Data from the District's State Education Office and D.C. Public Schools shows that of every 100 students in public or charter schools, 43 graduate within five years, 29 enroll in a post-secondary program, and only 9 ultimately attain a certificate or degree.
By 2020, the National Equity Atlas forecasts that 45 percent of jobs in the Washington metro area (and 59 percent in the District) will require at least a four-year degree.
"It's a very serious issue. You see buildings are being built, highrises and new industries, new people—there's a lot of life and vitality in this city," says Michelle Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy. "But it's unfortunate that many of the people who grow up in this area or have gone to public schools in this area are not educated to ultimately be able to take advantage of all of these opportunities."
Increasingly, black students in the city will need some form of post-secondary education to keep up with workforce demands and future job growth. By 2020, the National Equity Atlas forecasts that 45 percent of jobs in the Washington metro area (and 59 percent in the District) will require at least a four-year degree. Half of new jobs in the metro area over that same period will require at least an associate's degree.