When people think of Galveston, they don’t typically think of a college town, but Galveston’s education community is strong, said Donna Lang, associate vice president of Texas A&M University at Galveston.
“The influence of having three higher education institutions in a town this size is huge,” Lang said.
In the past 10 years, island residents have overall become more educated, with a higher percentage of adults older than 18 holding advanced degrees or training, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Education officials in Galveston trace this change to both more emphasis on continued education and more island jobs that require advanced skills.
In 2017, 17.2 percent of Galveston residents between 18 and 24 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to only 13.4 percent in 2010.
Among adults 25 to 34, those holding a bachelor’s degree or higher has risen from 29.2 percent in 2010 to 36.1 percent in 2017, according to Census data.
That’s largely because of the influence of Galveston’s institutions of higher learning, said Vivian Kardow, vice president of human resources and employee services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
But the very nature of work done at the medical branch is what primarily attracts people with higher-level degrees, Kardow said.
The 2008 opening of the Galveston National Laboratory alone attracted people with advanced degrees, she said.
“It’s got some of the world’s greatest scientists there,” Kardow said. “All of that requires a level of expertise and education that leads that sector.”
Cissy Matthews isn’t at all surprised to hear the island is more educated, she said.
The past decade has seen a push from island educators to make advanced degrees the norm for high school students, said Matthews, vice president of instruction at Galveston College.
“We’re seeing more and more students going for dual credit,” Matthews said. “We’ve made it easy for them.”
Alternatives to the traditional four-year degree style, such as night classes, community college, and technical certificates, are becoming more widely accepted and better known, Matthew said.
In the past few years, the Galveston Independent School District has placed heavy emphasis on lining up students with the next step of their education, Superintendent Kelli Moulton said.
The district has tailored classes to a handful of career paths and developed out-of-classroom programs to show students the real-world results of higher education, Moulton said.
“If we can link that authentic learning, then they will pursue that on their own,” Moulton said.
This goal benefits from the trickle-down effect of the island’s major research institutions, Moulton said.
The more educated populace is also a trend reflected at the state level, State Demographer Lloyd Potter said.
In general, Texas’ economic growth is attracting people who have college degrees, he said.
In 2011, 26.4 percent of Texans older than 25 had a bachelor’s degree or higher. In 2015, that rate had nudged to 28.4 percent, according to state data.
When students come to Galveston, there’s a good chance they’ll stay, he said
“A fair number of them are probably going to stick and stay,” Potter said. “Not completely but some percentage of them are staying.”
Lang moved to Galveston in 1986 to attend Texas A&M University and hasn’t left since, she said.
“Our young professionals, especially those that are single, almost all live on the island,” Lang said.
That’s a trend Garrett McLeod can also see.
The city’s economic development coordinator, McLeod points to Galveston’s entertainment, arts and historic culture as attractors to educated people, he said.
In the past 10 years, Galveston’s economy has seen an increased focus on the emerging technology sector, McLeod said.
“The education sector has seen the value in fostering the growth of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in which students can take their unique ideas and apply them to real world issues or people,” McLeod said.
And with the island’s tight knit community, locals who return after college can get a leg up, Moulton said.
“Galveston is still very much a small town,” Mouton said.
The Galveston lifestyle also has made the island an attractive place for retirees, which could be playing into this trend of upward education, Potter said.
“The population is getting to be a little older,” Potter said. “If you have people who are retiring, they probably have higher levels of educational attainment.”
In 2010, 16.3 percent of Galveston was 60 or older, according to Census data. In 2017, 21.5 percent of people were this age.
What Galveston needs to do is continue promoting itself as a place of learning, Lang said.
“I think the world’s changing in that we’re seeing more and more graduate credentials needed,” Lang said. “We’re still trying to build that story in Galveston.”