Erie Vital Signs

Education


Especially during this commencement season, we want to explore some important trends and issues regarding education in Erie County. Given the importance of education in fostering lifelong personal and career success, how are we doing locally?

But first, to honor all of our recent Erie graduates, here’s a final Quiz on some of the more important educational trends in the local community. As you’ll see, we’ve even included an extra credit question to help you along! (Answers are also given at the end of this report.)

1. As of 2013, what percent of Erie County residents aged 25 and older has earned a high school diploma or equivalent?
(A) 5.5%.
(B) 15.8%.
© 40.2%
(D) 95.8%

2. In the 2013-2014 school year, which of the 13 school districts in Erie County had the highest high school graduation rate, and what was that rate?
(A) Erie City, at 85%.
(B) General McLane, at 99%.
© Harborcreek, at 90%.
(D) Millcreek Township, at 95%.

3. How much higher are the median earnings of Erie residents with a bachelor’s degree compared to the median earnings for all Erie residents?
(A) About 10%.
(B) About 26%.
© About 50%.
(D) About 75%.

4. Which NHL hockey team recently won the Stanley Cup finals? (O.K., we just threw this one in here to see if you’re paying attention! But you’ll receive extra credit for getting it right.)
(A) New York Rangers.
(B) Pittsburgh Penguins.
© Buffalo Sabres.
(D) Chicago Blackhawks.

5. What percent of eighth-graders in Erie County was assessed during the 2011-2012 school year as having “below basic” math skills?
(A) 3.5%.
(B) 5.6%
© 12.5%.
(D) 25.0%.

1) How important is education?

We hear amusing but horrifying statistics all the time concerning the education of our kids: In 2006, only half of our 18-to-24-year-olds could find New York (and only 43% could find Ohio) on a U.S. map. Economists have studied extensively the role that education plays, not only in conferring personal benefits such as improved productivity and hence earnings on the individual, but also in generating positive spillover effects to the society at large. According to estimates in the College Board’s most recent Education Pays report, the median earnings in 2011 of full-time year-round workers aged 25 and over with a bachelor’s degree were almost 60% higher compared to those with just a high school diploma. Those with a high school diploma, in turn, earned about 41% more than those without a high school diploma. Just as for the nation as a whole, data from the Erie Vital Signs show that this positive effect of education on median earnings is visible among Erie County residents. In addition to the effects of higher education, a large and growing body of work suggests that there are substantial long-run economic benefits to local communities from investing in early childhood education. Moreover, research also finds that additional education may generate positive non-monetary benefits to the individual such as higher job satisfaction and improved health, as well as to society in the form of lower crime and increased participation in the political process. Of course, we also need to qualify the estimates of the returns to education by recognizing that college may not be suitable for everyone, that the quality of education is perhaps even more important than the quantity, and that it’s important to prepare our kids for the careers of the future.

2) So how is Erie doing?

We briefly look at Erie’s educational performance along various dimensions such as: (A) educational attainment, graduation rates, and the impact on median incomes; (B) proficiency in reading, mathematics, science, and writing; © educational spending; and (D) early childhood education. These are all important indicators of Erie’s current and potential future stock of human capital that will play a large role in determining the quality of the local area labor force, our productivity, and ultimately the standard of living in our community.

Educational attainment, graduation rates, and the impact on median incomes

Local Achievements:

  • As of 2013, the percentage of Erie residents aged 25 and older with a high school diploma or GED (40.2%) was higher than the average for the 13 Erie Vital Signs peer areas (28.9%).
  • As of 2013, the percentage of Erie County residents aged 18 to 24 with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 9.9%, also above the average for the 13 Erie Vital Signs peer areas (9.2%).
  • While there is variation across school districts, average high school graduation rates in Erie County compare favorably to those in Pennsylvania and the nation as a whole. In the 2013-2014 academic year, the average high school graduation rate across Erie’s school districts was 87.0%, while it was 85.3% in Pennsylvania.
  • The median earnings of Erie residents with a bachelor’s degree was about 26% higher than the median earnings for all Erie residents in 2013, and those with more advanced degrees had median earnings that were 64% higher than the median earnings for Erie as a whole.

Room for improvement:

  • Among those aged 18 to 24, the 9.9% of Erie residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher reflects a decline from the 11.0% in 2012 and the 12.4% in 2007.
  • Among those aged 25 and over, Erie’s percentage with a bachelor’s degree (17.9%) is slightly below the average of 18.2% for the 13 peer areas.
  • For those with bachelor’s degrees, median earnings in Erie were only about 86% of the median in the peer areas.

Policy Implications?

  • Given the potential for education to generate higher incomes, we need to sustain (and perhaps even improve) the relatively good performance of the local area with respect to the number of high school graduates and high school graduation rates, as well as to attract and retain those with college or advanced degrees.
  • Devise creative strategies to promote economic activities that will ultimately attract higher paying jobs to the region, since this will reduce Erie’s median earnings disadvantage and help prevent “brain drain” from the local economy.

Proficiency in reading, mathematics, science, and writing

Local Achievements:

  • In the 2011-2012 academic year, almost 80% of third-graders and almost 75% of eighth-graders in Erie County were assessed as being “advanced” or “proficient” in Math, while almost 70% of third-graders and almost 80% of eighth-graders were assessed as being in these two categories for Reading.
  • Less than 5% of Erie eighth-graders were assessed as having “below basic” Writing skills in 2011-2012.

Room for improvement:

  • Almost 8% of third-graders in Erie County were assessed during the 2011-2012 school year as having “below basic” Math skills, while almost 19% were assessed as having “below basic” Reading skills.
  • Among eighth-graders in Erie County, 12.5% were assessed during the 2011-2012 school year as having “below basic” Math skills, while over 9% were assessed as having “below basic” Reading skills.
  • At the same time, over 20% of eighth-graders were assessed as having “below basic” skills in science, although this trend has also been improving compared to earlier years.
  • Erie County’s PSSA results for third-graders do not compare favorably to those for the state of Pennsylvania as a whole.

Policy Implications?

  • All four of the PSSA skill categories (Math, Reading, Science, and Writing) still have room for improvement, although there is variation across Erie school districts with some already performing quite well.

Educational spending

Local Achievements:

  • Over the last decade (between 2002-2003 and 2012-2013), educational spending per student across the Erie County school districts increased, on average, by 14.5% in real terms, after adjusting for inflation.

Room for improvement:

  • As a percentage of the statewide average, per student spending in Erie County has fallen to 87.5% in 2012-2013 from 91.8% in 2002-2003.
  • In 2012-2013, the expenditure per pupil in Erie County ($12,792) was 3.5% lower than the year before and 12.5% below the statewide average expenditure of $14,622.

Policy Implications?

Although Erie lags behind the state of Pennsylvania in terms of educational spending per student, the policy implications are not necessarily definitive and clear-cut. This is because the relationship between educational spending and student performance is still the subject of considerable debate.

There is perhaps somewhat greater agreement that the effect of educational spending per student will depend more on how the money is spent than on how much money is spent. And given this emphasis on improving the effectiveness in allocating educational resources, there have been some recent attempts to measure the return on educational investment.

Early childhood education

Local Achievements:

  • In 2012-2013, the percentage of children under the age of 5 in Erie County that participates in various early education programs (57.3%) was higher than the average participation rate across Pennsylvania (43.0%).
  • Throughout the period from 2007-2008 to 2012-2013, the total participation rate in Erie County has been much higher than the average participation rate in Pennsylvania.

Room for improvement:

  • Total participation in education-based pre-school programs in Erie County has declined somewhat from the 59.4% seen in 2010-2011, with participation rates falling slightly for most programs except Early Intervention and PA Pre-K Counts.
  • According to data for the 2012-2013 school year, the percent of Erie County’s children that are exposed to various “risk factors” that could hinder their education is higher than in the state of Pennsylvania as a whole.
  • Policy Implications?
  • Given all the research documenting the long-run positive effects of early childhood education, this is definitely an area in which we should continue to devote economic resources.
  • It may also be useful to educate parents on the importance of these early learning opportunities not only for their own kids but for the community as a whole

3) Be inspired and be inspiring!

Finally, in keeping with the Erie Community Foundation’s admonition to each of us to be inspired as well as be inspiring, here are some inspiring commencement speeches:

Albert Einstein (Physicist) at Swarthmore College, 1938.
Steve Jobs (Co-founder, Apple) at Stanford University, 2005.
Michelle Obama (U.S. First Lady) at Tuskegee University, 2015.
Samantha Power (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) at the University of Pennsylvania, 2015.
Aristotle (Greek philosopher) at Plato’s Academy, 350 B.C. (Sorry, we’re still searching for a YouTube video on this one!)


Answers to Quiz: #1.C. #2.B. #3.B. #4.D. #5.C.


This EVS Special Report was written by Dr. Kenneth Louie, Director, Economic Research Institute of Erie, in the Black School of Business, Penn State Behrend.

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