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Published: Sunday, 5/9/2010

No. 1 with a sheepskin

TOLEDO is Number One — and amid this metropolitan area's dismal economy, sluggish growth, and poor educational attainment, the distinction is worth celebrating.

A new Brookings Institution study of the nation's 100 largest metro areas ranks Toledo first in young adults' enrollment in higher education. According to the report the Washington think tank released today, three-fifths of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 in Lucas, Wood, Ottawa, and Fulton counties are earning college or graduate degrees. That compares with barely two out of five nationwide.

The data for Brookings' study are from 2008, before the recession exerted its deepest grip on Toledo and the nation. Since then, it seems reasonable to assume that even more young adults locally are pursuing higher education as an alternative to entering a forbidding job market.

Whatever the reason, our young people's interest in higher learning is as vital as it is impressive, because our region has a lot of catching up to do. Among the top 100 metro areas, we rank just No. 88 in the percentage of people over 25 who have a bachelor's degree — fewer than one in four.

The report, sadly, gives Toledo little else to cheer about. The metro area's population has fallen. It has endured the third-highest drop in both median household income and the percentage of households that consist of married couples with children.

More than one out of three children who live in the city of Toledo are poor. But poverty is not merely an urban phenomenon: Between 2000 and 2008, median household income in Toledo's suburbs dropped by 8 percent. And again, that was before the worst of the recession hit.

The question now is how many of Toledo's newly minted college graduates will stay in the area instead of leaving for Boston or Austin or Seattle. If Toledo is to grow and prosper, that challenge demands the full attention of the region's political, business, civic, and cultural leaders.

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