Seattle smarts
Robert Sumner  /  Getty Images
Nearly half of Seattle's adults hold bachelor's degrees, the strongest proportion of college-educated residents in any big city.
updated 6/12/2006 1:40:25 PM ET 2006-06-12T17:40:25

Which community boasts the highest concentration of brainpower — and therefore can claim to be America's smartest big city?

The answer is Seattle, according to a new study by

An analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data puts Seattle's No. 1 ranking in perspective:

Forty-seven percent of Seattle's adults hold bachelor's degrees, the strongest proportion of college-educated residents in any big city. It's nearly double the U.S. average of 24.4 percent.

Seattle is second to Washington, D.C., in the share of people with advanced diplomas. Twenty-one percent of Washington's adults have earned graduate or professional degrees, followed by Seattle at 17 percent. The national average is 8.9 percent.

San Francisco and Austin are the runners-up in the study, which ranks the relative brainpower of 53 large communities.

Rounding out the top 10 are Colorado Springs, Minneapolis, Charlotte, San Diego, Washington, Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque. analyzed the educational levels of adults in nearly 16,000 cities, towns, villages, boroughs and unincorporated areas. Communities were ranked in three population categories, based on a formula that rewards places with heavy concentrations of college graduates. (Click here for the study's methodology.)

The rankings reflect each community's collective brainpower, which is tied to its residents' abilities to innovate, create, compete — and make money.

A worker with a graduate degree earns 45 percent more, on average, than a colleague with a bachelor's degree, and 167 percent more than someone who never went beyond high school, according to figures released last year by the Census Bureau.

The study found that America's brainpower is concentrated in technology centers, national and state capitals, college towns and affluent suburbs.

Seattle, San Francisco and Austin rank first, second and third among large communities because they're the only ones where more than 40 percent of adults have bachelor's degrees. (Click here to see how the 53 largest metros ranked.)

Arlington, Va., is the brainpower leader among medium-sized places. Sixty percent of its adults have bachelor's degrees, two and a half times the national average. (Click here for the 10 smartest medium communities, and click here to see how all medium communities ranked.)

Topping the rankings of small communities is Ann Arbor, Mich., the home of the University of Michigan. The four runners-up are also college towns, starting with No. 2 Newton, Mass. (Click here for the 10 smartest small communities, and click here to see how all small communities ranked.)

Not all results of the analysis are positive. The study found that Miami has the lowest brainpower of any large community. Just 16 percent of Miami's adults have earned bachelor's degrees, which is 31 percentage points behind Seattle's rate.

Santa Ana and East Los Angeles — both in California — rank last in the other two categories. (Click here for more places with low brainpower scores.)

© 2007 The Business Journals


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