College grads increase in county

Published 1:32 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

By Bill Bishop and Roberto Gallardo

Special to The Star-News


Covington County has experienced a brain gain in the last 40 years, joining the rest of the country in what has been a massive increase in the number of adults who have earned college degrees.

In 1970, 4.7 percent of those over 25 years of age had college degrees in Covington County. By 2010, 13.1 percent of adults here had completed college.

The percentage of adults with college degrees in Covington County was less than the national average of 27.9 percent in 2010. The college-educated rate here was less than the Alabama average of 21.7 percent.

The number of adults in the United States with college degrees has nearly tripled since 1970, when only 10.7 percent of adults had graduated from college. But the percentage of adults with degrees in rural counties, such as Covington County, while increasing, has generally fallen behind the proportion of college-educated residents in urban counties.

The loss of young, well-educated residents has posed a long-standing difficulty for rural communities.

The good news for rural America is that it has caught up in every other measure of education.

In 1970, 7.8 percent of adults in rural counties had some education after high school, but less than a college degree. By 2010, 27.4 percent of rural adults had attained some post high school education without earning a college diploma. That level of education was close to the national average of 28.1 percent.

In Covington County, 5.1 percent of adults had some college in 1970, rising to 26.0 percent in 2010. The Alabama average in 2010 was 27.9 percent. Covington County had 19,735 adults (those over 25 years of age) in 1970 and 26,024 adults in 2010.

Overall, Stallmann says, the trends show that “rural people have responded to the demand for increased job skills by the increasing their post secondary education.”

Only 23.5 percent of the adult population in Covington County had failed to graduate from high school in 2010. Nationally 15 percent of adults had not completed high school; in Alabama, the rate was 18.6 percent.

Mark Partridge, a rural economist at Ohio State University, says that regional differences in college graduation rates have increased in recent years. Partridge said his studies have found that rural counties and counties with small cities in the South and West didn’t fare as well as those in the Midwest and Northeast in attracting college graduates. But the problem of keeping college graduates in rural America is a national issue and one that is also enduring.

Missouri economist Stallmann said this is a reflection of the kinds of jobs that are generally available in rural communities. If there are fewer jobs demanding college degrees in a community, there are likely to be fewer college graduates.

There can be a “self-reinforcing cycle” in rural communities, Stallmann said — young people leave to gain higher education, they don’t come back after college because there aren’t jobs that demand such education, and their absence diminishes the chances that more of these kinds of jobs will be created.

Nationally, rural counties and counties with small cities have caught up with urban counties in the percentage of adults who have some post high school education.

Bill Bishop is co-editor of the Daily Yonder (, an online news publication published by the Center for Rural Strategies.

Roberto Gallardo is an assistant extension professor at the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University, (