How brainy is Berkeley?

Parking for Nobel laureates only/Photo: Cyrus Farivar

The website recently engaged in a research exercise to identify the smartest cities in the country. Looking at the 200 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, from New York City to Burlington, Vermont, Portfolio used statistics from the latest American Community Survey to determine the brainiest towns.

The San Francisco/Oakland metropolitan area place a respectable 10th, behind number 1 Boulder, Colorado, and number 2 Ann Arbor, Michigan. With two college towns leading the pack — unsurprisingly — where might Berkeley have placed if it had qualified on size?

Well, Berkeleyside has run the numbers and it’s safe to report that we crush both Boulder and Ann Arbor. (You can do your own comparisons using the data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey here.)

The survey looked at the educational attainments of the over-25 populations of the cities. League-leading Boulder had 26% of its population with graduate or professional degrees. Berkeley’s tally: a whopping 38% of our population has graduate or professional degrees. Boulder has 32% of its over-25 population topping out at a bachelor’s degree. Berkeley, despite all those graduate degrees, has exactly the same percentage. So 70% of Berkeley’s adult population has at least a college degree.

There are fewer points in the survey for lower attainments. Boulder has just under 25% of the adult population attending college without getting a degree, or obtaining an associate degree. In Berkeley, that tally is 17%. High school degrees are the highest level for 11% of Boulder, compared to 7% of Berkeley. And 6% of Boulder’s adults dropped out of high school, compared to just over 3% in Berkeley.

So we’re number one! Right? Not so fast. There’s another college town that’s too small for the Portfolio list, but almost the exact same size as Berkeley. Run the numbers of Cambridge, Massachusetts and you find a place that may well give Berkeley a run for its money. A whopping 44% of Cantabrigians have graduate or professional degrees, and 29% have bachelor degrees. So Cambridge has 73% of its adult population with college degree or better, just ahead of Berkeley. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to the finer details of Portfolio’s league-producing formula. So we can’t tell whether Berkeley’s edge a notch down — 17% at college without degree or associate degree compared to Cambridge’s 10% — would keep us in the lead.*

It’s fair to say that among cities of over 100,000 population, Berkeley would get on the medal podium for the nation’s brainiest cities.

*If you go to smaller cities, there are plenty of places that would rank higher, particularly in wealthy suburbs. Palo Alto, which is somewhere else in California, has 80% of its adult population with graduate or professional degrees.