published Monday, December 13th, 2010

Chattanooga trails in smart city index

With its abundant outdoor attractions, Chattanooga boosters brag that the Scenic City could become "the Boulder of the East."

But not when it comes to brains, perhaps. In a ranking of how smart people are in America's biggest metro areas, Boulder, Colo., ranks No. 1, and Chattanooga is near the bottom.

"Boulder is a very different environment as a smaller university town, and it's certainly not an industrial city like Chattanooga," said Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, who has a son who once lived in Boulder. "Every city that has an industrial heritage like Chattanooga will have a challenge in education."

Census data indicate more than three-fourths of those living in the six-county Chattanooga area don't have a four-year college degree, and nearly 17 percent of the adult population doesn't even have a high school diploma.

Smartest cities

1. Boulder, Colo.

2. Ann Arbor, Mich.

3. Washington, D.C.

4. Durham, N.C.

5. Fort Collins, Colo.

Smartest cities in Mid-south

32. Lexington, Ky.

38. Huntsville, Ala.

42. Atlanta

79. Nashville

85. Knoxville

142. Memphis

156. Chattanooga

187. Kingsport, Tenn.



Metro Chattanooga

17 percent Adults who dropped out before high school graduation.

30.4 percent Adults who stopped their education at high school diploma.

30.1 percent Adults who attended college or earned a associate's degree but stopped without a four-year degree.

15.1 percent Adults who stopped education with bachelor's degree.

7.4 percent Adults who earned graduate or professional degree.

Metro Boulder, Colo.

6.2 percent Adults who dropped out before high school graduation.

11.3 percent Adults who stopped their education at high school diploma.

24.6 percent Adults who attended college or earned an associate's degree but stopped without a four-year degree.

32 percent Adults who stopped education with bachelor's degree.

26 percent Adults who earned graduate or professional degree.


Three times as many Boulder adults have graduate or professional degrees than the 7.4 percent share in metro Chattanooga, according to an analysis of census data by, an online business publication. And more than twice as many adults have college degrees in Boulder than Chattanooga.

Metro Chattanooga includes nearly half a million people in Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee and in Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties in Georgia.

The Boulder metro area comprises fewer than half as many people, all of whom live in Boulder County, Colo.

Despite recent gains in Hamilton County high school graduation rates, metropolitan Chattanooga ranked 156th among the 200 top U.S. metro cities for educational achievement, said. In the ranking of educational attainment, Chattanooga trailed most other major metro areas in the Mid-South.

"The study's objective was to identify markets that have the highest levels of collective brainpower, as indicated by their residents' educational attainment," said G. Scott Thomas, who wrote the report titled "Brain Bounty or Brain Bested?"


Lack of education can be a major drawback to worker earnings, according to census data.

Government figures show that a worker with an advanced college degree will earn 31 percent more than a worker with only a bachelor's degree and 128 percent more than someone who never went beyond high school.

"The higher your education, the more you earn — plain and simple," said Alan Richard, director of communication for the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit organization that works with 16 Southern states to improve public education. "Increasingly, today's jobs require higher levels of training and skills than ever before."

In 1970, for instance, 26 percent of middle-class Americans had some college. Today, 61 percent of those considered middle class have at least some college training, according to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

Gov.-elect Bill Haslam said Tennessee needs to improve its residents' educational attainment. Last year an estimated 28,000 students dropped out of Tennessee high schools, the equivalent of nearly four school buses for every day of school, Haslam said.

"We need to do better, and I'm committed to helping us try to do better," Haslam said.

He cited the focus on education by Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey as one of the reasons he picked Ramsey to be his deputy.

Ramsey said he "is passionate about education" and speaks frequently with students, parents and community leaders about the need for students to stay in school.

"I'll always tell people that we've got to have an educated, trainable work force," he said.

Tennessee already is showing the most progress of any state in cutting high school dropout rates. A recent report by America's Promise Alliance, a national children's advocacy group, showed Tennessee's high school graduation rate rose from 59.6 percent in 2002 to 74.9 percent in 2008.


But a report to be released today by the Southern Regional Education Board said only 22 percent of adult Tennesseans have bachelor's degrees, compared with the U.S. average of 27 percent.

Georgia's college graduation rate matched the U.S. average, the report showed.

Richard said Tennessee's new reimbursement to colleges for graduation rates, not just student enrollment, should help boost college completion.

"By any measure, Tennessee's progress is remarkable, and the challenge is to keep raising high school graduation to overcome some of the historic gaps among Southern states to help more students prepare for college and the jobs of the 21st century," Richard said.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
inquiringmind said...

We could solve this problem with more immigration. Immigrants are more responsible about seeking higher education and employment status than old-line Americans.

December 13, 2010 at 6:39 a.m.
sideviews said...

Atlanta grew its economy by importing smarter folks from elsewhere. Only one of three adults in the Atlanta area, at one time, grew up in Atlanta as a child. The cheapest and easiest way to get good talent is to be open to outsiders and immigrants.

December 13, 2010 at 8:36 a.m.
jpo3136 said...

We have tripled the expense to students when it comes to buying classes to attain that Bachelor's degree.

In the mid-90s, it was possible to purchase an entire semester (16 hours) at UTC for near $1250. I had a common textbook and fee cost near $175.

Today, that same $1250 will yield one three hour class at $835 (or $1085 for 4 hours) and cover the adjacent costs like books, software and gasoline for commuting.

So, for the students and their families, the cost has gone from what it would take to buy one semester is now equal to what it would take to buy one class. Notice, this is at a satellite campus of a land grant university; and, that university routinely receives direct additional funding from the local community.

Has the percentage of government contributions to higher education decreased? I don't know, but suspect so. My gut impression is that there has been a decrease in the amount probably spent on keeping good faculty, also; though, I do not know this for a fact. It seems as though we got into a phase there where everyone wanted to buy a new building or focus on the sports team; meanwhile, our local colleges' roles as our local brain-bank went largely ignored.

We have smart people in this area. We are as good as anyone else. We can be better.

A lot of what our education means goes back to what we do with it. Are you going to unleash the adventure of a lifetime, or sit back and hope someone pays you just for possessing a degree?

I suspect that a big chunk of the local brain-drain has to do with the appeal of the idea that smarter people and better opportunities are someplace else. Add in pressure of student loans and one or two bumps or boring experiences at home, the local college grad is going to rent a moving van and get out of here.

I don't think it's actually any easier anyplace else.

The education I received at local public schools, our colleges and a high school here, was above and beyond what Thomas Jefferson received when he was growing up. Now, I'm no Thomas Jefferson, but I got a better chance at a better start than he did; and, so did most everyone else around here.

My life improved dramatically on the day I graduated. Outwardly, I received almost none of what the myths lead us to expect. In practice, I received something more valuable: intellectual self-confidence.

I got the confidence it took to assert my ideas. I understood more about what was happening. I got the chance to respect the idea that I had learned about the question, and stood just as much of a chance at pursuing an answer as anyone else did.

The lack of college graduates in this area can look like an existentialist hellhole; or, it can make this place a field of opportunity: your choice.

I chose opportunity. So far, it's been a helluva ride. Back to the lab and the library. Adios.

December 13, 2010 at 11:35 a.m.
TeaParty330 said...

If education is the priority our government leaders say it should be, then America needs to catch up with the rest of the world and extend our school day and school calendar. Our schools operate on a 19th century model. No other business still operates this way. It's time that teachers have ful-time jobs. They already get full-time pay and benefits. This week is a good example. No school today because of snow. Thursday is a half day of school and counts toward the 180 day school year. Since schools will be off for nearly three weeks, I guess the school system decided to give another half day off on Thursday for no real reason. It's time our school system got real and demanded more than part-time work of our school employees

December 13, 2010 at 1:28 p.m.
Sailorman said...

Memphis is smarter than Chattanooga??!! rofl - I guess they just looked at the FedEx campus.

December 13, 2010 at 1:44 p.m.
anonymight said...

Silliness. I wonder why Volkswagen didn't build their factory in Boulder? I wonder why Wacker came to Bradley County? I wonder why we have fewer foreclosures than nearly anywhere else? I think I'd rather be stupid and employable than overqualified and on food stamps. Unemployment is highest where degrees are superfluous.

December 13, 2010 at 3:38 p.m.
Allison12 said...

anonymight, Only 7 to 9% earm 4 year degrees, and HS drop out rate is closer to 28%. As respoted in August 2010, VW hired the first 1,000 production workers, of which 326 were local. Lower education, means cheaper work force, and the $212 million, plus 30 tax abatment, VW is hear for money and low pay work force. To think otherwise would be naive.

December 13, 2010 at 7:44 p.m.
please login to post a comment

Other National Articles

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.