Bragging Rights For College Towns

Apparently, the title “University Capital of North America” is one worth tussling over. So far, a three-way international wresting match for bragging rights has developed among Boston, Montreal, and now Worcester.

It all started in January, when The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a study by Montreal’s McGill University. Conveniently, the study found that Montreal, not Boston, was the capital of academe. Of the 30 largest metropolitan areas in North America, the study said, Montreal had more college students per 100 residents than did the next closest city, Boston–4.38 compared with 4.37. A mere 0.01 of a percentage point separated Montreal from the intellectual also-ran status now conferred on Boston.

To come up with that fateful number, McGill’s planning office divided the 145,798 university students in the Montreal area by the metropolitan population of 3.3 million. In comparison, the Boston metropolitan statistical area–defined by the US Census Bureau to be virtually all of eastern Massachusetts, including Boston, Worcester, and Lawrence–has 243,035 college students among its 5.56 million residents.

Worcester challenges Boston, Montreal for academic title
John Hoy, president of the Boston-based New England Board of Higher Education, did not dispute the McGill numbers, but neither did he take the usurpation lying down. Hoy told CommonWealth that Montreal is a “great city,” but Boston’s academic research and development would “wipe them right off the map.”

Then Worcester’s ivory-tower types weighed in. When Fred Baus, executive director of the Colleges of Worcester Consortium, started getting calls about the Chronicle article from his member institutions, he did some math of his own. Lo and behold, he found that with nine colleges in 162,000-resident Worcester, there were about 15 college students per 100 residents in his burg. That puts Worcester in an intellectual stratosphere all its own.

Meet the Author
Higher education in central Massachusetts is a force to be reckoned with, as “an economic entity as well as a developer of intellectual capital,” says Baus. And in this three-way race for scholarly recognition, he sees no reason for Worcester to finish out of the money.

“We’re helping Boston come in second,” Baus notes. “Why shouldn’t we go on our own and be first?”