Forbes Magazine just published a list of the least educated cities in the U.S. and Visalia placed sixth.
According to the WalletHub survey it cited, of the 150 largest metropolitan areas in the country, the Visalia area (which includes Tulare and Porterville) ranked 148th in percentage of high school diploma holders, 148th in percentage of college-experienced adults or associate degree holders, 149th in percentage of graduate or professional degree holders, and dead last in percentage of bachelor’s degree holders.
“It’s not news to folks who live in the Central Valley,” said College of the Sequoias Superintendent/President Stan Carrizosa. “The Central Valley as a region has been educationally underdeveloped when you compare it to more urban areas like L.A., San Diego and San Francisco.
“I think it’s like any other study or research,” he added. “It’s a representation of some results based on the criteria they were applying.”
Among the criteria was the low number of technology jobs in the area. The survey ranked Visalia last in workers with computer, engineering and science jobs.
“We’re an ag-based area so there are limits on the level of technology-based employment,” said Carrizosa, adding that agriculture creates “a demand for a fairly large workforce. Although there is some automation, we haven’t replaced human hands in picking and packing.”
“I’d love to attract businesses that provide jobs in those (technological) areas,” said Craig Wheaton, Visalia Unified School District superintendent. “We would attract our own children back, those who go to college and don’t come back and raise our educational level.”
“The report accurately reports the American Community Survey education data for adults 25 and older that details the low levels of education attainment for adults within Tulare County,” said Adam Peck, executive director of the Tulare County Workforce Investment Board. “I think it’s important to provide some context to that data. Tulare County schools actually graduate students from high school at a rate higher than the State of California as a whole.
“So how then can the educational attainment rate for the county be so low?” Peck continued. “The answer is in the large part of our community that reside here as adults even though they never attended the schools in our community. This migrant workforce has very low levels of educational attainment and severely impacts the data reports like this rely upon in creating these lists.”
Peck also noted that American Community Survey data shows that the unemployment rate for college graduates in Tulare County at 2.4% was less than half of the rate for California as a whole at 5.5%.
Carrizosa said that educational surveys need to “have an understanding of the dynamics” of the area. “Surveys like this one oversimplify things and unfairly characterize us on a national level. People see the California cities and draw an unfair conclusion. It didn’t really give enough context for why things are the way they are.”
One of the reasons things may be the way they are is the lack of a public four-year university in Tulare County. This area may be the largest in the country without such a university.
“Anywhere you locate a four-year university, you elevate the educational pool of the area,” said Carrizosa.
“One of the hardest things for our students is that they think the highest level they can reach is College of the Sequoias,” said Wheaton. “It’s a good steppingstone, but it’s difficult when you compete with other communities that have University of Michigan or MIT or Fresno State, and they have the opportunity to see that on a regular basis and as a way of life. We don’t have that college tradition and experience. They have to go away and it’s so hard to make that initial leap and be successful. When I read about the opportunities that our students have, we’re disadvantaged when you compare it to communities across the nation.”
Wheaton also questioned the fairness of the survey.
“I don’t believe the way it’s reported is fair to our city or our school system,” he said, adding that the survey “infers our education system is failing. What I’m afraid of is that people misinterpret the data and decide we have the worst school district. We stack up as about average in the state.”
He added, however, the survey also “tells us what we already know. We have a very challenging community. We have agriculture, not science or engineering. As a result of our economic base, we have people here who are less educated.
“When I read this, it just strikes me that our school district is so important to our community,” said Wheaton. “From the lowest educated families, we’re providing an education so they can go out and compete.”