Texas has grown by degrees; 1990s population boom boosted state education levels, census data show

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1A

They came from all over the world – and they brought their diplomas with them.

The Texas population boom in the 1990s helped make the state more educated than ever, according to census data released Friday. The Dallas suburbs led the way.

“There were significant improvements all across the state,” said Steve Murdock, Texas’ state demographer. “But there are still real differences between the suburbs and the central cities and between the various regions of the state.”

In booming Collin County, 47 percent of the population had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2000. That’s the highest percentage in the state, and a sizable increase from 39 percent in 1990. (All of the educational attainment data released included only residents 25 and older.)

Other area counties weren’t far behind. Denton, Rockwall, Dallas and Tarrant counties ranked fifth, eighth, 13th and 15th among the state’s 254 counties.

For the fastest-growing communities, the raw numbers are borderline stunning.

In 1990, Frisco had 159 residents with graduate or professional degrees. In 2000, it had 2,663. That’s an increase of more than 1,500 percent. As a more recent example of that increase, the Frisco Bar Association now has 32 members. There was no Frisco Bar Association until it was founded three years ago, with four members.

“Before that, people thought, ‘It’s just a little country town, why on earth would they have a bar association?'” said Debby Mackoy, the association’s president-elect and an eight-year resident of Frisco. “We get new people signing up all the time.”

Ms. Mackoy said the influx of college-educated residents has had an impact on the city’s priorities.

“There’s a big push on now to try to develop more fine arts in the area,” she said. “People want to have our own arts district here, as opposed to everybody having to go downtown [to Dallas]. You wouldn’t have seen that 10 years ago.”

In all, 38 area cities and towns more than doubled the number of people with graduate or professional degrees in the 1990s. Statewide, that population increased 46 percent.

Dr. Murdock compared the changes with those in the 1970s, when the oil boom drew millions of people from other states to Texas.

“We saw increased income levels and increased educational levels then, and the 1990s were very much a similar phenomenon,” he said.

On the lower end of the education spectrum, Texans were less likely to have dropped out of high school than before. In 2000, 14.9 percent of Texans 25 and older didn’t have a diploma or its equivalent. In 1990, that number was 16.9 percent.

In Dallas County, 25 percent of the residents 25 and older did not have a diploma or equivalent in 2000; in 1990, that number was 22.9 percent.

Dr. Murdock said that foreign immigration patterns played a large part in the educational levels of urban and suburban areas. Foreign workers with advanced degrees generally moved to places such as Plano and Richardson to take advantage of high-tech jobs.

Those who came to America and settled in places such as Dallas were more likely to be poor and less educated, he said.

Census data has not been released for all 50 states, so it’s difficult to tell how the Dallas area rates compared with other American cities.

But Dallas County had more dropouts per capita than the counties that house cities such as Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle. (It had fewer than the counties of Miami, Los Angeles and New Orleans.)

But the new census information is an imperfect window into how the state is doing in fighting its dropout problem.

Because the census only includes information about Texans 25 or older and was gathered two years ago, it does not include anyone who would have been of high school age since about 1993. As a result, efforts at dropout prevention in the last eight or nine years are not reflected.

Researchers will have to wait until late summer, when a more detailed batch of information will be released, including educational breakdowns by age and race and information about 18- to 25-year-olds.

That, Dr. Murdock said, will be a more revealing look at how well-schooled Texans are.

“This release is a sampling,” he said. “That will be the four-course meal.”