West Virginians More Likely to Pass On College Education, Survey ShowsCHARLESTON, W.Va.
West Virginians are more likely to earn high school degrees, skip college and head into lower-paying labor intensive jobs, according to the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey.
Nearly 65 percent of state residents age 25 and older went no further than 12th grade, the highest rate in the nation. The national average is about 48 percent.
But only about 18 percent of West Virginians in that age group earned a college degree, the lowest rate in the nation. The national rate is about 31 percent.
The survey also shows that West Virginians are more likely to have transportation, manufacturing and extraction jobs than their peers in other states. West Virginia females overwhelmingly pick jobs in education and social services, the survey shows.
And West Virginia adults are less likely to have “white-collar” careers in management, business, finance and real estate than residents elsewhere.
State economists and education officials say the survey shows that a high school degree paid much bigger dividends a generation ago than it does now.
“I think a lot of people made that basically an economic decision,” said Tom Witt, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University in Morgantown. “You could do well with a high school degree. That’s not the case today.”
Witt and others expect the numbers to change as more people realize the economic value of a college education.
“We have needs, and they need met,” says Kay Goodwin, secretary of the state’s Department of Education and the Arts. “Education is a major way to do that.”
The survey numbers show a dramatic link between education levels, career development and a thriving economy.
While the state’s overall education and economic outlook has brightened since 1990, West Virginia continues to lag behind the national average in categories such as annual income and educational background.
Slightly more than 1 percent of West Virginians age 16 and older make more than $100,000 annually, the lowest rate nationwide, the survey found. About three of every four West Virginians in that age group earns less than $50,000 a year.
Economists such as Witt say that’s because of an economic lag factor.
Two or three decades ago, adults skipped college because it wasn’t economically feasible and good-paying jobs awaited them in local coal mines and factories, he says. But as those jobs left, residents were slow to adapt. Only now are they starting to realize the connection between education and income, Witt says.
According to the U.S Census 2000, the Black population in West Virginia is approximately 3 percent.
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