We’ve written many times about how Memphis must increase the number of its college graduates from 2010 to 2013  if it is to be competitive in today’s economy, so we won’t repeat it here.

But the Memphis MSA was one of 57 regions that entered a national contest to vie for $1 million as the region with the highest gain in college grads.  Well, Memphis didn’t finish first, but it was among the high-performing 17 regions that recorded an increase of more than 10%.

Akron, Ohio, was first at 20.2% but Memphis – at 11.4% –  finished strong among the MSAs we often consider as our peers:

* St. Louis – 4.2%

* Nashville – 5.8%

* Indianapolis – 7.7%

* Charlotte – 7.0%

* Raleigh – 10.9%

* Louisville – 11.5%

There are an awful lot of people who deserve credit for this progress, but no one deserves it more than David Williams, president of Leadership Memphis, who championed this cause at a personal and organizational level.  More to the point, he put a plan in place to accomplish it, and he has been unflagging in his determination to improve Memphis numbers.

Here’s the article and map from the Chronicle of Higher Education about the challenge:

The Akron, Ohio, region has won the $1-million prize in the Talent Dividend Prize competition, a contest sponsored by CEOs for Cities and Living Cities to raise the number of students earning college degrees across the nation.

Akron led the 57 regions that competed by showing a rise of more than 20 percent in the number of students earning associate, bachelor’s, or advanced degrees from 2010 to 2013.

The prize is based on the theory that communities with more college graduates have higher income levels, not only among those with the degrees but also among others, who gain the benefit of overall higher wages. The Talent Dividend Prize is also part of a national “completion agenda” strategy, backed by states, foundations, and others, that aims to increase the number of adults with postsecondary degrees.

Seventeen other cities competing for the prize increased their numbers of graduates by at least 10 percent, led by the Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton region of Washington and Oregon (17.6 percent); the Omaha-Council Bluffs region of Nebraska and Iowa (17.1 percent); the Tulsa, Okla., and Syracuse, N.Y., regions (each at 15.9 percent), and the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater region (15 percent). Twenty-two other cities increased their number by 5 to 9 percent.

To account for the differing sizes of the regions that competed, prize organizers calculated the percentages as new degrees awarded per 10,000 in overall population for the base year and the final year.

The accompanying map shows the figures for each of the 57 regions that participated, including five regions where the proportion of degrees awarded relative to the population actually fell during the period of the competition: the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman region of Ohio and Pennsylvania; the Manchester-Nashua region of New Hampshire; the Grand Rapids-Wyoming region of Michigan; the Stockton, Calif. region; and the Columbus, Ohio, region. The prize organizers based their calculations on data reported by colleges to the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

Click on the regions in the map and go to middle of page to see interactive map.

Yet even in regions where degree completion fell relative to population, prize organizers said, the collaborations that grew out of the competition—in many cases linking colleges with businesses and elementary and secondary schools—were positive developments.

“Every city that does even a little work in this is a winner,” said William F.L. Moses, managing director of the education program at the Kresge Foundation, which financed the prize.

The foundation also made matching grants of $10,000 to 37 communities to help them organize their degree-attainment efforts.

While the prize was a short-term incentive, Mr. Moses said he expects the efforts will continue: “Once they’re there, they’re there.”

The joint project of CEOs for Cities and Living Cities is part of an effort by those community-improvement groups to raise education levels nationwide.

The $1-million will be awarded to the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education, which coordinated Akron’s effort to graduate more students. But because of a pact the organization made with other communities at the start of the competition, the council will share the money with Cleveland (which had an increase of 8.5 percent) and Youngstown, and with Canton, which was too small to qualify to compete.