Bethesda the brainiest


MapAnd the winner is… Bethesda. Followed by Potomac.

These two Montgomery County towns topped an Internet list as the most educated places in America with the majority of residents obtaining high levels of education. The survey was conducted by Nerdwallet, an outfit of analysts paid to crunch economic data with the goal of helping businesses and consumers decide where best to live and spend money.


The results should be viewed skeptically. On its website, Nerdwallet concedes that it “has financial relationships” with some merchants, particularly credit card companies, and does receive compensation when consumers link to its page and generate sales for its merchants.

For its study on the most educated places in America, Nerdwallet analyst Sreekar Jasthi said that he used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to determine what percent of the population in 2,000 places across the country possesses a high school diploma or an associate’s degree, possess a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree or a doctorate or professional degree.

This is the second year Nerdwallet has conducted this particular survey, and Bethesda came in first both times, Jasthi said. According to the latest study, 83 percent of the residents of Bethesda possess a bachelor’s degree and more than half earned a master’s degree. Eleven percent of the population has gone on to attain a doctorate.

Taken in total, those impressive numbers gave Bethesda a 91 percent overall score. The study credits the numerous employees at the National Institutes of Health with keeping Bethesda in the top position.

When told he presides over quite an educated group, Rabbi William Rudolph of Congregation Beth El in Bethesda said, “Those statistics have been around for at least 10 years old and seem accurate, I quote them all the time. I have no idea why it is so – most of my congregants are attorneys, not NIH people – but for me as a synagogue rabbi where at least 80 percent of my people do live in Bethesda, I appreciate that the expectations are high for the kinds of thinking and programming that Beth El needs to do.”

However, Rudolph added, “The only negative of this highly educated population reality is that Bethesda people expect that their kids will do as well (or better) academically, and that places a lot of pressure on the kids to do well in school, get into only the best colleges, and have only the most professional kinds of career tracks.”

In nearby Potomac, which earned an overall score of 88 percent, 80 percent of residents possess a bachelor’s degree, 50 percent possess a master’s degree and 9 percent have a doctorate.

North Bethesda took the 10th spot with 71 percent of its residents holding a bachelor’s degree, 41 percent a master’s degree and 9 percent a doctorate, bringing its overall score to 78 percent.

Overall, Maryland and Massachusetts are the most highly educated states, according to this study. Towns in those two states take up seven of the top 10 places.

But just like any of these “best of” surveys – from colleges to restaurants – different studies use different criteria and obtain different results.

A recent study from only included cities and declared Boulder, Colo. the most educated. In that study, which considered education as well as income and poverty rates, it was noted that 59 percent of residents hold a bachelor’s degree.

For Bethesda and Potomac, the percent of residents with a bachelor’s is 83 and 80, respectively, well above Boulder’s rate.

The other towns in Nerdwallet’s top 10 are Wellesley, Mass., Brookline, Mass., Palo Alto, Calif., Newton, Mass., Lexington, Mass., Chapel Hill, N.C. and Upper Arlington, Ohio.

The Nerdwallet study attributes high education levels to nearby locations of the country’s best universities as well as the presence of prominent industries, especially technical ones, within commuting distance. 


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