County schools are better than national rankings

WalletHub’s ranking for least educated area doesn’t take into account that many residents were not educated before arriving in Tulare County


TULARE COUNTY – A recent report on Tulare County being the least educated area in the United States might have been statistically accurate but also somewhat misleading.  

Adam Peck, executive director of the Workforce Investment Board (WIB) in Tulare County, said WalletHub’s annual report of America’s most and least educated cities continually ranks the Visalia-Porterville metropolitan statistical area (MSA) at the bottom of the list but only looks at the highest degree obtained by the entire adult population and not the highest degree obtained by students educated in the county.

“The numbers aren’t wrong, it just doesn’t mean quite what they are saying,” Peck said.

The Visalia-Porterville MSA ranked dead last in adults aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher, quality of the public school system, and racial and gender gaps in local education. This led to an overall rank of 150 out of 150 MSAs across the nation and the dubious distinction of being America’s least educated area.

Peck said the ranking is an accurate representation of adult population living in Tulare County but not of those who are educated in the local public school system. The discrepancy between the graduation rate and the ranking lies in the category of data called “educational attainment,” the most heavily weighted of all the metrics used to compile the rankings. Visalia-Porterville ranked in the top 5 for lowest percent of bachelor’s degree holders and lowest percent of graduate or doctoral level degrees. Educational attainment was calculated as the percentage of adults 25 and older with a high school diploma, at least some college experience and those who have earned an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or master’s degree or a doctoral level degree. 

Peck points out that Tulare County’s graduation rate is 88.7%, which is higher than the statewide average of 86.6%. More than 43% of all Tulare County high school seniors graduate meeting all the entrance requirements for both of California’s university systems. 

“Graduation rates are very strong in the area so our schools are doing a good job,” Peck said.

Peck said the educational attainment category incorrectly includes the adult population when a far fewer percentage of those adults ever entered the educational system. Tulare County has double the rate of foreign born residents (34%) as the national average (17%). Peck said many of these adults were either educated in another country, did not receive a formal education and never went to school in Tulare County, or the United States. According to the American Community Survey, an annual update done between U.S. Census counts, shows people educated in Tulare County are almost twice as likely to graduate high school and three times more likely to go to college, obtain a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree. 

“When you look at the educational attainment charts and take out those that were not born here, Tulare County’s numbers are fairly close to the national percentages,” Peck said.

Peck said the school districts here are also doing impressive work to educate students who were not born here and who may not have received any formal education prior to immigrating to Tulare County. The majority of foreign born residents (41%) came to Tulare County prior to 1990 and just 6% since 2010. The percent of people with a high school diploma is about 40% in ages 18-24 (those who entered the school system between 1996-2002) but just 24% for those ages 65 and over (those who graduated before 1968). Similarly, the percent of the population who has attended some college is double in those 18-24 (39%) than those 65 and older (19%).

“People who move here with less education work hard to raise their kids and the system is educating their kids at a pretty astounding clip,” Peck said.  

Peck said he did agree with WalletHub’s assessment that higher levels of education tend to lead to higher salaries and the more that graduates earn, the more tax dollars they contribute over time, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Tulare County residents with a bachelor’s degree earn about $51,000 per year, about three times as much as those who do not graduate from high school earning about $16,000 per year.

“The rates here are very comparable to the national average,” Peck said.

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