Study: Providence posts 2nd-biggest jump in advanced degrees

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The share of workers in the Providence metropolitan area who have an advanced degree increased more than in almost any other region in the country over the past eight years, a new study shows.

The percentage of the Providence area’s work force with an advanced or professional degree – from M.B.A.’s to Ph.D.’s – jumped from 10.7% in 2005 to 16.3% in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University.

The only major U.S. metro area where workers posted a bigger percentage-point increase for advanced degrees than Providence was Washington, D.C., where the number rose from 21.6% to 27.5%. The federal government defines the Providence metro area as nearly all of Rhode Island plus Bristol County, Massachusetts.

Thanks to the sizable increase, Providence jumped 15 spots – from 29th in 2005 to 14th in 2013 – on a ranking of metropolitan areas that have the largest high-skilled labor forces. Other big gainers were Indianapolis, which also jumped 15 spots, and Cleveland, which rose 12 spots.

“These figures indicate there is a notable economic restructuring occurring in Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Providence that is perhaps forming a next generation of innovation nodes,” Richey Piiparinen, Jim Russell, and Charlie Post, the authors of the Cleveland State study, wrote in an analysis of their findings.

The “highest-educated workers are likely to be job creators, not just job consumers,” they wrote. “This primarily comes about two ways: (1) through direct job creation, such as a research doctor starting a biotech spin-off firm; and (2) through indirect job creation, particularly relating to the ‘downstream’ effect a high-paying job has on the local service economy.”

The authors acknowledged, however, that the increase in advanced-degree holders’ share of the labor force has not necessarily been accompanied by robust job growth in those metro areas so far. But they suggested that it’s possible “a concentration of advanced-degree workers is an important leading indicator to more widespread growth” in the future.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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