2013 Higher Education &
Regional Prosperity
(1.6MB pdf)

When the Value of Jobs Coalition released its first report in December 2010, one of our goals was to communicate to policy-makers and the public about the regionís startling decline in per capita income relative to the U.S. metro average, and the connection between this decline and our state and regionís struggle to provide quality public services. The release of that report left us wondering why our regionís income level has gone from above average to below average and what we can do to reverse that trend.

Since that report, we have looked at the roles of manufacturing jobs, the traded sector, industrial land availability and international trade in our regionís economic health. While those reports revealed important findings about what makes our regional economy tick, we were still far from uncovering why Portland-metro has experienced this relative decline in income.

The recent availability of data related to college degrees and earnings sheds new light on this question and gives us a better understanding of why our region now has below average per capita income compared to the U.S. metro average. And the answer surprised us: The group that appears to be the biggest driver of this trend is our college-educated workers, who work less and earn less, creating a significant income gap.

This report puts a finer point on the relationship between higher education and economic growth. For decades, our coalition members have understood the critical connection between an educated workforce and economic growth. This report, however, reveals that we need to be more deliberate and thoughtful about the type of degrees our students are earning and how those degrees translate to higher earnings.

We cannot simply say that growing or attracting college-educated workers is sufficient. We must also focus on growing and attracting workers with degrees that lead to stronger earnings and a greater contribution to the regionís overall economic vitality.

Finally, while this report reveals some important trends about the hours worked and the earnings made, it does not indicate whether the lower hours and earnings are the result of a lack of higher-paying/time-intensive jobs available or the result of workers choosing to not work in those higher-paying jobs (i.e., are they making a lifestyle choice?). In other words, does our below average per capita income exist because there is not a demand for these workers? Or is it because we do not have a supply of workers who want these jobs? In all probability, itís some of both.

While some may find the debate over the demand or supply question more interesting, this report focuses on what the data tell us about the make-up of our college-educated workers. What they study and the fields they enter affect not only their own earning power but also the overall financial health of our region. Oregon is an income-tax-dependent state. The more income our region and state can generate, the more money we will have to invest in schools, roads and public safety, creating a good quality of life for our regionís families.

So we should review this data with this question in mind: What changes should our region make to improve wages and income, and therefore quality of life, for our families?



The percentage less in annual earnings between Portland-metroís college-educated workers and the U.S. metro average.

$2.7 billion.

The amount of additional annual earnings generated if Portland-metroís college-educated workers earned the same amount as the U.S. metro average.

$110 million.

The amount of additional funds available to K-12 schools in Oregon if Portland-metroís college-educated workers earned the same amount as the U.S. metro average, which could fund more than 1,200 teachers.


The rank of Portland-metroís 25- to 39-year-old, white, college-educated males in the number of annual hours worked out of 284 U.S. metros.


The percentage less of white, prime-age, college-educated males with business degrees in Portland-metro compared to the U.S. metro average.


The amount less in annual earnings made by Portland-metro lawyers compared to the U.S. metro average.