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Baltimore should embrace its inner-nerd

Baltimore is brainy. And that's a good thing — nerds come out ahead.

A study released recently by the Brookings Institution ranks metro areas by number of college graduates, and the Baltimore-Towson area comes in 14th, with 35 percent of adults holding college degrees. A New York Times story about the study describes a "growing divide among American cities, in which a small number of metro areas vacuum up a large number of college graduates" and notes that areas with more college graduates have longer life expectancies, higher incomes and fewer single-parent families, which result in higher regional incomes — and tax bases.

Another recent study ranks Baltimore the third-most "metroversity-impacted" urban area out of the top 40 largest regions in the country (behind only Boston and Raleigh, N.C.). What is a metroversity? It's an urban area whose colleges and universities positively influence the quality of life for all who work, live and study there. This is certainly true in Baltimore, where higher education institutions constitute a major industry, enrolling more than 120,000 students, creating $15 billion in economic activity each year and sustaining nearly 85,000 jobs. Data from the 2010 Census show that in Baltimore City, the college-age population (ages 18-24) grew 10 percent over the last 10 years. The second and only other growth area was for ages 25-64, whose numbers increased 1 percent.

Employers know the students are here, and the city and county would do well to supplement our comparatively strong job market with services that support students and colleges. For example, in surveys my organization has conducted over the last 10 years, students continue to say the three things the region needs more are better transportation, better safety, and more entertainment options. Initiatives like the Charm City Circulator, which provides students and young professionals free transportation to areas they frequent, offer a tremendous benefit to students thinking about staying here for a job. I applaud MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake's plan to extend this service. In the county, new development around Towson's city center will provide entertainment options for area students and create additional economic benefit for the region.

In almost every area of the city and county, it's easy to see the tremendous economic impact of our colleges and universities. Campuses are not just acres of untaxed land, as often billed. Who has continued to build during a recession? Who has continued to hire? Just look at the new education and biotech centers at the University of Maryland; new dorms and renovated buildings at the Maryland Institute College of Art; a new law school, bookstore, and student housing at the University of Baltimore; renovations and new buildings at Johns Hopkins Homewood campus and the medical institutes in East Baltimore; athletic facilities and academic buildings at Coppin State University; academic buildings and business development along the York Road corridor at Loyola University Maryland; a new school of pharmacy at Notre Dame of Maryland; a new school of architecture and engineering at Morgan State University; new dorms and academic buildings at Towson University; the Athenaeum at Goucher College; a new Community College of Baltimore County center in Owings Mills; an entirely new campus for Stevenson University, and a tremendous new fine arts center atUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County. These are just some of the projects that have been developed over the last few years. These economic engines are keeping our region humming.

As Baltimore City looks to attract 10,000 new families and Baltimore County looks to replace manufacturing jobs with positions filled by high-tech workers, we must look to our colleges and universities as the places that will attract, educate and employ many of these new residents. As a state and a region, we must not overlook the tremendous positive impact of the higher education industry and we must support these institutions and their students if we want our region to grow and compete.

Baltimore might not be the prom queen or the popular jock. But we don't have to be the thug or the class clown. We are the nerd! Let's embrace ourselves as a brainy city and support the institutions and students that make it that way.

Kristen Campbell McGuire is executive director of the Baltimore Collegetown Network, a nonprofit consortium of 14 area colleges and universities. Her email is kmcguire@baltimorecollegetown.org.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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