Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver is tired of hearing people suggest that New Jersey has a problem of adequately educating its residents.
In fact, according to Oliver, New Jerseyans are the "most educated" in the nation.
The Essex County Democrat extolled the virtues of the Garden State during a Feb. 27 speech at the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
"New Jersey is a great place. We probably have the best strategic position on the East Coast. We have so many natural assets," Oliver told the audience. "And, I’m gonna get into the subject of education in a moment, but I want to tell you New Jersey has the most educated population of all the states in this country. And we need to stop this self-fulfilling efficacy that we’ve got a problem when it comes to adequately educating people in our state."
Oliver’s claim about us having the "most educated population of all the states" is not far off, PolitiFact New Jersey found.
In recent years, New Jersey has stood in fifth place among the states for the percentage of its residents, 25 years old and over, who have at least a bachelor’s degree, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
First, let’s explain the source of Oliver’s statement.
To back up the claim, Oliver spokesman Tom Hester Jr. cited various education statistics, including a 2009 news article by U.S. News & World Report about, in part, New Jersey having the highest high school graduation rate in 2006.
He also cited a Huffington Post article that claimed the state ranked sixth for the percentage of adults between 25 and 34 years old with college degrees.
"New Jersey has the nation’s highest high school graduation rate and ranks at the very top in student achievement and college graduation rates," Hester said in an email. "Quite simply, the Speaker believes that when you combine it all together, NJ has the most educated population."
But two experts told us the best measure to determine the "most educated" states is the educational attainment data compiled by the census bureau.
Through a spokesman, Thomas Snyder, director of Annual Reports for the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education, said in an e-mail: "I believe the educational attainment data are the most relevant for this question."
David Bills, an associate professor at the University of Iowa’s College of Education, agreed that the educational attainment data is the "best available measure."
"I’d call it the best available measure, with the main problem being that many people complete their education after age 25, so this measure will underestimate how many people will eventually get degrees," Bills said in an e-mail. "Not everyone over age 25 has completed their schooling."
Now, let’s explain how many New Jersey residents have college degrees.
In 2009, 34.5 percent of New Jerseyans, 25 years old and over, had at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the census bureau. In 2010, 35.4 percent of state residents fit the same criteria, according to the census bureau.
In both years, New Jersey was in fifth place behind Massachusetts, Colorado, Maryland and Connecticut. Even after accounting for the margins of error attached to those statistics, New Jersey doesn’t place first.
So, New Jersey may not have the "most educated" population, but it certainly has one of them.
In a speech at Rider University, Oliver claimed "New Jersey has the most educated population of all the states in this country."
According to educational attainment data from the U.S. Census Bureau, her claim is pretty much on target. In 2009 and 2010, New Jersey ranked fifth for the percentage of its population, 25 years old and over, who have at least a bachelor’s degree.
We rate the statement Mostly True.
To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.
Remarks by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver at Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, Feb. 27, 2012
U.S. Census Bureau, Webinar: 2010 American Community Survey Single Year Estimates, Sept. 20, 2011
U.S. Census Bureau, Educational Attainment in the United States: 2009, February 2012
The Star-Ledger, N.J. has most educated lawmakers in the nation, study finds, June 14, 2011
The Chronicle of Higher Education, How educated are state legislators?, June 12, 2011
U.S. Census Bureau, Educational Attainment by State: 1990 to 2009, accessed March 19, 2012
Email interview with Tom Hester Jr., a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, March 20-21, 2012
Phone and email interview with David Thomas, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, March 20, 2012
Email interview with David Bills, an associate professor at The University of Iowa College of Education, March 20, 2012
Email interview with Lutz Hendricks, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, March 20-21, 2012
U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, accessed March 21, 2012
U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, accessed March 21, 2012
U.S. Census Bureau, 2006-2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, accessed March 21, 2012
U.S. News & World Report, Which States Have the Best High School Graduation Rates?, June 12, 2009
Education Week, Report Awards Grades for Education Performance, Policy; Nation Earns a C, Maryland Ranks First for Fourth Straight Year, Jan. 12, 2012
Huffington Post, States With The MOST College Degree Holders (PHOTOS), originally published June 10, 2010
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