By Kathleen Megan

Published by Hartford Courant, November 19, 2010

In 1990, Connecticut ranked first among states in people with bachelor’s degrees; now it’s fourth

Connecticut continues to have one of the most-educated populations in the country, but according to the latest data from the U.S. Census, its ranking nationally has slipped.

The data released this fall as part of the U.S. Census American Community Survey rank Connecticut fourth among states in the percentage of adults 25 and older with bachelor’s degrees; for advanced degrees, its ranking is third.

Although Connecticut’s ranking is strong, state Education Commissioner Michael Meotti said he was concerned because there has been a slight slippage since 1990 when Connecticut ranked first — tied with Massachusetts — in the percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees and ranked first for advanced degrees.

“The concern is not that we are going to drop from fourth to 25th next year,” said Meotti. “That doesn’t happen. The American Community Survey: It’s a very slow-moving number. You almost can’t find anything year to year. It’s the general direction, and the problem is once a general trend takes hold, it’s very hard to turn around.”

He said there were warning signs that Connecticut’s young adult population — people in their 20s and 30s — was less-educated than people in their 50s and 60s. This means, he said, that as older people retire, they are replaced by a younger cohort in the workforce who are slightly less-educated.

Meotti said the New England 2020 report on educational attainment forecasts a 3 percent decline from 1993 to 2020 in the number of 30-year-olds in Connecticut holding bachelor’s degrees or higher.

Still, the data from the American Community Survey, released in September and based on 2009 figures, show that the percentage of adults in Connecticut over the age of 25 with bachelor’s degrees has increased since 1990 from 27.2 percent to 35.6 percent; the figure for those with advanced degrees has risen from 11 percent in 1990 to 15.5 percent.

“The more interesting thing will be when the 2010 Census figures come in,” said Meotti, “to see what place we are in.” Also, he said, it will be important to note whether other states are catching up, even if Connecticut retains its high ranking.

He said the situation points to concerns that he and other state educators have raised about college graduation and retention rates and about the percentage of students who arrive at college unprepared for college-level work.

“It takes decades to build up the educational level of a state’s total population so our current national leadership is based on 40 years of expanding educational opportunities,” Meotti said in an e-mail. “The educational success of younger adults, such as 30 year olds, tells us where we are going in the future.”

He said “the numbers going forward for Connecticut are not as promising and we need to change to get back on an upward trend.”

Lauren Kaufman, an education specialist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said that Connecticut still has “a very highly educated population.” However, she said, there has been a decline “in our overall educational achievement.”

“Compared to Massachusetts and other states,” Kaufman said, “we’re just not at the top anymore where we used to be.”

“The business community is concerned about this,” Kaufman said. “If we are going to be able to pull ourselves out of this recession, we must focus on high-skill, high-wage jobs: engineering, science, math. We need a highly educated workforce. We would be very disturbed to know … that we are not as competitive as we once were in the national rankings.”