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.

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  • What kind of parking place do you get if you win a Knobel prize?

  • One that gets ticketed every month when I forget the street cleaning day.

  • Seena

    Apparently Berkeley’s not brainy enough to figure out how to help every family raise highly literate offspring: How about some of those Brainy Ones work out how to ensure all babies born in this brainy-intellectual-soup-of-a-town own at least Ten Books a Year for their first Ten Years. Cheap. A very brainy professor of literacy, Richard Allington, would call it a “low effort intervention”.

  • Berkeleywalker

    Too bad you ran the give-away caption under the picture. Whenever I take out-of-town guests on a tour of the campus, I always walk them by the row of NL parking spots and ask if they know who gets to park in them. I tell them it’s a Berkeley IQ test. In seven years, I’ve had only two correct answers.

  • Rabea

    Formal education=brains?! Now THAT is distressing.

  • Alan Tobey

    In uber-green Berkeley it’s not just what we think, it’s what we do. Especially environmentally.

    So our work-in-progress claim to fame is a dual one: big brains, but small footprints.

  • Jayne

    The numbers don’t matter much to me, although I love talking to lots of smart people around town. I agree that working for better childhood education (reading!!!) is very important. And I think we’re really trying (at least, I am) to be environmentally aware and active.

    I still wish we were a kinder, more considerate group.

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