Six southern US metro areas: part 3 – education and school enrollment

Part three in the series on mid-sized metro areas around the southern portion of the Appalachian mountains looks at education and school enrollment, for men and women, and how it compares to the US as a whole.

The six areas of interest are: the Chattanooga-Cleveland-Dalton, TN-GA combined statistical area, the Greenville-Anderson-Spartanburg, SC combined statistical area, the Asheville, NC center-based statistical area, the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol, TN-VA combined statistical area, the Huntsville, AL center-based statistical area, and the Knoxville, TN center-based statistical area. See the first post in the series for more background.

The source for these results is 24 months of aggregated CPS microdata, covering January 2017 to December 2018.

Highest level of education attained

When defining education levels for adults, it customary to identify the highest level of education someone has attained based on five categories: 1) people without a high school degree, 2) those with a high school degree or GED but no college, 3) those with some college but no degree or a two-year degree, like an associate degree, 4) people with a bachelor’s degree, and 5) people with an advanced degree like a master’s degree, law or medical degree, or PhD.

I’ve used this grouping to calculate the educational distribution for men and women, age 25-54, in each area and in the US as a whole. Much like previous results in the series, there is an interesting divergence between areas. There is also an interesting divergence between men and women within areas.


Overall, people in the 25-54 age group in Huntsville are the most likely to have an advanced degree. However, the result is much stronger for men (20.3%) than for women (14.3%). Women in Huntsville are no more likely to have an advanced degree than women in the US as a whole. Other than Huntsville, none of the six areas has an above-US-average likelihood of having an advanced degree. It is also interesting to observe that Huntsville was the only area of the six where 25-54 year old women are less likely to have a high school degree than men. Huntsville’s share of age 25-54 men without a high school degree is nearly half the nationwide average.

The Asheville area has the largest gap between men and women in educational attainment. In Asheville, 42.1% of women age 25-54 have a bachelor’s degree or more, compared to only 26.7% of men. Men in Asheville, like those in Knoxville, Greenville, and especially Chattanooga, are less likely to have a high school degree than men in the US as a whole. However, in contrast to Asheville, in the Chattanooga-Cleveland-Dalton area, the share of men (28.8%) and women (28.5%) with a bachelor’s degree or more is almost identical.

The educational distribution for 25-54 year olds is fairly similar between the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol, Knoxville, and Greenville-Anderson-Spartanburg areas, with two exceptions. First, in the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol area, men are far more likely to have a high school degree compared to men in the other areas. Second, in Knoxville, like Huntsville, men are more likely than women to have an advanced degree.

School enrollment among young people

School enrollment among people age 18 to 24 in the six areas varies greatly between the six areas. In Huntsville, more than half (55.5%) of men in the age group are enrolled in school (college, university, or high school). Huntsville is the only one of the six areas where young men are more likely to be in school than young women, however, school enrollment is still higher for young women in the area than for young women nationwide.

School enrollment rates in the Chattanooga, Greenville, and Knoxville areas are similar to the US-wide average. Among 18-24 year olds in the Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol area, both men (34.9%) and women (37.8%) are far less likely to be enrolled in school than those in the US as a whole. Among women age 18-24 in the six areas, those in Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol were the least likely to be enrolled in school.

Men in Asheville stand out in the school enrollment data, with only 21.9% enrolled during ages 18-24, compared to 38.9% for women in the area.


To look at school enrollment for a narrow age group (those 18-24), I used 4 years of aggregate CPS microdata (January 2015 to December 2018). However, there were only 138 valid observations for men age 18-24 in Asheville (by population the smallest area of the six). To check that the result from the four combined years of data is meaningful, I applied the same calculation to each of the four individual years of data. The results were pretty consistent in each year.

It’s worth noting that the school enrollment variable is derived from a household survey and asks whether anyone in the household was enrolled in school in the previous week. This is an important detail for several reasons. First, young people living in a dorm will only be included if their dorm room is part of the survey (not if their parent’s household is in the survey). Second, some of the areas in this survey have large colleges and universities where people from all over the world are locally enrolled in school and can therefore be part of the survey. Third, the data are from monthly files, so those who are in school for eight months of the year would answer “no” during any of the four months that they are not in school.

The jupyter notebook used in this analysis is here. The next blog post in the series will look at what share of people in each area are working, unemployed, or not in the labor force, compared to the nation as a whole.

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