University of Iowa graduates like the ones pictured might consider Des Moines, number 15 on our list. Flickr/Alan Light

The U.S. economy added 2.2 million jobs that require post-secondary education between 2010 and 2014. Here's how they shake out.

Summer has waned and people are heading back to school or back to work.  But for relatively recent college graduates whose careers were essentially put on hold by the Great Recession, the end of summer is time to redouble their job search. A March 2014 report by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics found that only 64 percent of 2008 graduates had full-time jobs one year out of college—a striking number even compared to similar recession-era classes of 2000 (78 percent) and 1994 (79 percent). Economic crises wreak particular havoc on young people, who often have a harder time finding that crucial first job and get started in their careers.

So Labor Day is a good time to ask: Where are the best job markets for recent college grads?

With the help of the economic and labor market data firm EMSI, we ranked America’s 100 largest metros based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures on full-time regular employment for some 320 occupations that require post-secondary education, including bachelors’, masters’ and doctoral degrees, as well as more specialized training. These jobs, in fields like nursing, engineering, business, media, and education, pay an average of $34.28 an hour, or $71,300 a year. Across the United States as a whole, 2.2 million such jobs were created from 2010 and 2014, of which the 100 largest metros accounted for 1.7 million, roughly eight in 10.

The rankings are based on five key factors:

  • The percent change in jobs requiring post-secondary education from 2010 to 2014. 
  • The percentage of 25-34 year olds who hold these positions.
  • The average wages for these jobs requiring post-secondary education.
  • The concentration of these jobs based on their "location quotient," or LQ for short.
  • The share of new jobs requiring post-secondary education that can be attributed to local economic conditions or competitiveness.

The 20 Best Places for Jobs Requiring Post-Secondary Education

Rank Metro Percent Change Concentration of Jobs Local Competitiveness Wages Share 25-34 year-olds
1 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 7 4 2 3 8
2 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 2 1 4 1 23
3 Austin-Round Rock, TX 3 12 6 24 4
4 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 13 14 7 8 9
5 Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 8 17 5 17 21
6 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 28 18 16 14 15
7 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 42 3 26 6 18
8 Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 6 52 1 9 33
9 Raleigh, NC 5 15 12 33 39
10 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 32 56 8 7 10
11 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 11 51 3 21 30
12 Salt Lake City, UT 9 43 14 50 2
13 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 15 37 13 26 31
14 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 20 54 11 32 7
15 Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA 12 27 25 51 17
16 San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 34 60 24 11 5
17 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 23 35 10 18 48
18 Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 16 22 9 23 89
19 Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC 17 59 17 25 53
20 Columbus, OH 41 24 38 36 36

Tech and knowledge hubs lead the pack. San Francisco takes first place, followed by San Jose, the center of the Silicon Valley. Austin is third, Seattle, fourth, and Denver, fifth.  Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston, Houston, Raleigh and L.A. round out the top ten. Overall the leading metros for these highly-skilled jobs reflect the twin pillars of America’s knowledge-energy economy.

Despite the economic hit it took from the crisis, Detroit ranks 18th due to its concentration of design and engineering jobs and the ongoing recovery of the automobile industry.  This is on par with San Diego (16th), Atlanta (17th) and Charlotte (19th), and much better than other Rustbelt metros, such as Cleveland (70th) and Pittsburgh (79th). In fact, the talent-magnet metros of Washington, D.C. (23rd), New York (28th) and Chicago (33rd) all lag behind Detroit on these rankings.

At the other end of the spectrum, the lowest ranked metros include smaller, hard-hit Rustbelt metros like Scranton, Youngstown, Buffalo and Toledo, and Sunbelt vacation and retirement locales like Lakeland and Daytona Beach, Florida. 

The maps that follow chart each of the five factors that comprise the overall ranking.


Martin Prosperity Institute

The first map shows the metros that have gained (and lost) the most jobs requiring post-secondary education, charting percent change in such jobs from 2010 and 2014. There were 10 metros where jobs for college graduates grew by more than 10 percent, another 39 metros where such jobs grew by 5 to 10 percent, and 26 metros where they grew by 3 to 5 percent.  Eight metros saw no growth or decline.

Provo, Utah, tops this list with a 17 percent increase. San Jose follows close behind with 16 percent. Austin is third with 14 percent, followed by Raleigh, North Carolina (13 percent) and Grand Rapids, Michigan (13 percent), which is home to a cluster of leading edge office furniture manufacturers like Steelcase and Herman Miller that have benefited from the economic recovery. Other metros that saw more than ten percent growth in such jobs include Houston (12 percent), San Francisco (12 percent), Denver (12 percent), Salt Lake City (11 percent) and Cape Coral-Fort Meyers (11 percent). Again, Detroit does better than expected, with a 9 percent gain.

Several metros actually lost jobs requiring post-secondary education. Scranton, Pennsylvania, suffered a 3 percent loss; and both Albuquerque and Palm Bay, Florida, saw such jobs decline by 2 percent each.  Growth of these jobs was quite sluggish in Philadelphia (2 percent), Memphis (2 percent), and Buffalo (1 percent).


The second map charts shows the share of all jobs requiring post-secondary education held by 25-34 year-olds. In the leading places, 25-34 year-olds fill roughly a quarter of these jobs.

Martin Prosperity Institute

The leading places are mainly Western metros with younger populations overall. They include three metros in Utah—Provo (30 percent), Salt Lake City (28 percent), and Ogden-Clearfield (26 percent)—as well as the tech and knowledge hubs of Austin (26 percent), San Diego (25 percent), Washington, D.C. (25 percent), and Seattle (25 percent). New York, Boston, and Chicago (each at 24 percent) all do fairly well.

On the flip side, there are metros where 25-34 year olds account for less than one in five jobs requiring post-secondary education. These include Rustbelt metros such as Youngstown (18 percent) and Allentown (20 percent), Ohio; Scranton, Pennsylvania (19 percent); and Syracuse, New York (20 percent), as well Sunbelt retirement meccas, especially in Florida, including Palm Bay (18 percent), North Port (19 percent), and Daytona Beach (18 percent).


The third map shows the places where hourly pay is the highest for jobs requiring post-secondary education.

Martin Prosperity Institute

San Jose tops the list at $49 per hour, followed by Washington, D.C. ($46), San Francisco ($45), Bridgeport, Connecticut ($44), New York ($44) and Boston ($41).

Conversely, the metros with the lowest average hourly wage include Daytona Beach, Florida ($27), McAllen ($27) and El Paso ($28), Texas, and Scranton, Pennsylvania ($28).


The fourth map charts the relative concentration of jobs requiring post-secondary education based on their location quotient, or LQ.  An LQ of 1.0 means a metro is on par with the national average, while an LQ of less than 1.0 indicates it's lower than the national average, and an LQ greater than 1.0 reflects that it is higher. 

Martin Prosperity Institute

The top metros are again knowledge and tech hubs. San Jose (1.4) tops the list, followed by Washington, D.C. (1.31), Boston (1.27), and San Francisco (1.18). 

But there are also some surprises. Dayton, Ohio (1.12), Baltimore (1.14), Detroit (1.08), and Cleveland (1.07) have relatively high concentrations of jobs requiring post-secondary educations. This likely reflects the world-class universities, healthcare sectors and tech and design clusters surrounding their historic industries.

On the other side of the spectrum, the places with the lowest concentrations of such skilled jobs are Sunbelt centers such as Las Vegas (.65), Bakersfield, California (.79), El Paso, Texas (.82), Riverside, California, and Orlando (both .85) and several Rustbelt economies like Scranton (.87) and Youngstown (.89).


The fifth and final map identifies how much of each metro’s growth in jobs requiring post-secondary education can be explained by local competitiveness as opposed to national trends based on a shift-share analysis.

Martin Prosperity Institute

Once again, the twin pillars of America’s knowledge-energy economy stand out. Houston leads with 57,518 new jobs attributable to local competitiveness, followed by San Francisco (50,489), Dallas (40,955) and San Jose (39,482).  Denver (27,855), Austin (25,064), Seattle (23,818), L.A. (22,395) and Detroit (19,683) make up the rest of the top spots.  

Some of the metros where this competitive effect was smallest are surprising, including both Washington, D.C., and New York, along with Rustbelt metros like St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buffalo, as well as Chicago and Philadelphia.

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