Study: Cleveland home to Ohio's fewest college grads

CLEVELAND - Recently out of college, single and running her own event planning business, Amy M. Pappas jumped at the opportunity to buy a house in one of the city's hippest, up-and-coming neighborhoods.

She is part of a national trend documented by an Associated Press analysis -- more college educated people moving to America's big cities, even as those cities lose population overall. But she chose to live in a town that represents another side of the phenomenon: former manufacturing cities in the Midwest are struggling to attract residents with degrees at the same pace as cities such as Seattle, Atlanta and Austin, Texas.

Eight years after Pappas, 34, decided to leave the suburbs, she is thrilled with her life in Tremont, where trendy cafes, art galleries and restaurants are scattered among a growing number of new and refurbished homes five minutes from downtown.

"When I moved down here it was certainly a lot more rough than it is now. I love the eclectic aspect of it," Pappas said during a break from work in her third-story home office. "It's very cultural, which is something that's very important to me."

The AP analyzed more than three decades of education data for the nation's cities with populations of 250,000 or more. It found that 14 percent of Cleveland's residents at least 25 years old were college graduates, up from just 4 percent in 1970 when plentiful steel mill and other manufacturing jobs made higher education an afterthought.

Nationally, 27 percent of big city residents age 25 and older had at least a bachelor's degree in 2004. In 1970, only about one in 10 adults had bachelor's degrees.

Cincinnati has 34 percent of its 25 and older residents with college degrees. Columbus has 32 percent with college degrees. In Toledo, 18 percent had at least bachelor's degrees. Historical data was not available for the cities.

Thomas Mulready, director of the anti-brain drain Web site, said it's important to note that Cleveland's numbers may appear behind because there are several vibrant "inner ring" suburbs that in other cities such as Austin or Columbus would be within city limits.

Cleveland has 458,684 residents, according to the latest Census figures. Counting surrounding suburbs, the population jumps to about 1.2 million.

"We have certainly not found a shortage of young, educated professionals in the Cleveland area," said Mulready, who added weekly events in Cleveland held for young professionals draw hundreds.

The AP analysis shows that though there has been progress in Cleveland, it hasn't been fast enough, said Monica Turoczy, associate director of the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education.

"Cleveland and northeast Ohio recognizes that for us to be a better globally competitive, regional economy we need to at least double if not more that education attainment number," she said.

Turoczy helps lead an effort called the College 360 initiative that aims to enroll greater numbers of students in northeast Ohio area colleges and give them reasons to stay long-term by introducing them to arts, entertainment, sports and employment opportunities.

Getting people to stay is easier said than done in a city that has been struggling to break free of its manufacturing history, a troubled school district, rampant poverty and a bad self-esteem.

"Until northeast Ohio itself puts forth a message of discovering creative opportunities, both personal and professional, people are going to continue to regard Cleveland as little more than choking smoke stacks and the rust belt," Turoczy said.

Cities can keep young professionals by providing abundant job opportunities, a voice in the community and an environment that fosters interaction with like-minded peers, said Ryan Rybolt, 31, president of Infintech, a Cincinnati company that handles electronic payment processing for businesses.

A native of rural Harrison, Ohio, he stayed in the area after getting his engineering degree from University of Cincinnati. He helped start a volunteer organization called Give Back Cincinnati and works on a project to add wireless hot spots with free Internet access around the city.

"Cincinnati has really turned the corner recently in terms of engaging the younger professionals," Rybolt said.

In Cleveland, poor academic performance at its schools -- which have had to layoff teachers, cut programs and close buildings because of budget problems -- is often cited when people explain decisions not to live there.

Pappas said she's seen many neighbors move once they have children because of the schools and that she'd likely do the same if she were to have kids.

"Right now I'm not married. I don't have kids. So Tremont is a fantastic place for me," she said. "It's convenient to everything. I love the neighborhood. I have lots of friends here."

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