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Increasingly, Wadena's a college town

Getting a college education is increasingly the norm in Wadena County and the rest of Minnesota, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.

In 1970, 57.7 percent of people over 25 years old in Wadena County had not completed 12th grade; only 15.5 percent had been to at least one year of college.

In contrast, between 2006 and 2010, just over half (50.6 percent) of the same age group in the county had completed at least one year of college.

A variety of studies have shown that people who have been to college generally earn more and have lower unemployment rates than people who have only been to high school.

At the same time, the statement that "college is the new high school" applies to Wadena County in the sense that as formal education levels have dramatically gone up with each generation, the average wage per job since 1969 according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis has been relatively stable when adjusted to inflation.

In 1970, the average wage per job adjusted for inflation was $27,836, while in 2010 it was $32,020.

The USDA data set measures the percentage of people over age 25 whose highest education level was less than high school, high school only, some college and college degree.

The data are taken from the decennial censuses except for 2006-2010, which is from a five-year average of the American Community Survey.

The data was last updated Jan. 17.

"College degree" was defined as at least four years of college in 1970 and 1980, and a bachelor's or higher degree in 1990, 2000 and 2006-2010.

In the "some college" category, the data is defined as people who have completed at least one year of college but not a bachelor's degree. It does not distinguish people who have completed a two-year associate's degree from people who have dropped out of a four-year bachelor's degree program.

Of the four categories in Wadena County, people completing "some college" made up the fastest-growing category, increasing nearly four times from 9.0 percent in 1970 to 35.8 percent in 2006-2010.

People completing a four-year or bachelor's degree also increased, from 6.5 percent in 1970 to 14.8 percent in 2006-2010.

People who completed up to high school or GED increased from 26.8 percent in 1970 to 37.1 percent in 2006-2010.

Those who did not finish high school or GED decreased from 57.7 percent in 1970 to just 12.3 percent in 2006-2010.

The overall Minnesota average for 2006-2010 was 8.7 percent of people 25 and over completing less than high school (compared to 42.4 percent in 1970), 27.8 percent completing high school or GED only (compared to 34.5 percent in 1970), 32.1 percent completing some college (compared to 12.0 percent in 1970) and 31.4 percent completing a bachelor's or higher (compared to 11.1 percent in 1970).

The Minnesota average wage per job, adjusted for 2012 equivalent dollars, was $40,513 in 1970 and $47,805.72 to 2010.

The Minnesota average numbers are weighted heavily toward metro area counties.

Wadena County, however, had similar percentages in education levels to comparable rural counties.

Of the 20 counties in its category, Code 7, on the Rural-Urban Influence continuum, Wadena was the third highest in the percentage of residents over 25 who had completed up to one to three years of college.

Wadena is home to one of the M State campuses, and the only two Code 7 counties with a higher percentage in that category - Jackson and Douglas - are also home to public two-year colleges.

Of the 20 Code 7 counties, Beltrami and Lyon had the highest percentage of residents over 25 who had completed a bachelor's degree, and they are home to public four-year colleges: Bemidji State University and Southwest Minnesota State University, respectively.

Code 7 counties are counties that are not adjacent to a metro area and have an urban population between 2,500 and 19,999.