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Is Bethesda really the smartest city?

By Carolyn Freeman

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Many students spend high school working towards a common goal: acceptance to a prestigious university. With early admissions decisions coming out this week, college is on the mind of almost every senior.

Graphic by Pablo Ramirez.

This is nothing new. Bethesda’s college-oriented attitude prompted The Business Journals, a national business newspaper, to name Bethesda the smartest city out of all U.S. communities with a population between 50,000 and 100,000.

The November study used a five-part rating system to determine the smartest cities by population ranges. Each city received a score based on the percentages of its population over 25 who dropped out of high school, only have a high school diploma, received an associate degree, earned a bachelor’s degree or obtained a graduate or professional degree. The study found that over 80 percent of Bethesda adults hold bachelor’s degrees or higher degrees.

But the Journals’ method of determining the smartest cities favors cities whose inhabitants have the resources to afford college, graduate school and beyond. The level of college education is often not a measure of intelligence, but rather a measure of money and opportunity.

It’s no coincidence that Bethesda is one of the “smartest” cities in America when it’s also one of the wealthiest. In an October study, The Atlantic Magazine determined that Bethesda is one of 20 zip codes that comprises the richest three percent in the nation. Wealth and education levels are linked, since those with the most resources are the most likely to afford and achieve a higher education, according to the New York Times.

The most exclusive colleges in the country are populated mainly by those who can afford it. Only 6.5 percent of Harvard students come from the bottom 50 percent of the income distribution, and students from the bottom of the income bracket don’t get a leg-up in the admissions process, according to the New York Times article. A 2005 study conducted by former Princeton president William Bowen found that lower-income students don’t receive any preferential treatment during the admissions process.

For standardized testing used for admission purposes like the SAT, it’s easier for those with more money to get higher scores because they have the resources to take prep classes and hire private tutors, according to the New York Times.

The Business Journals’ study indicates what Bethesda residents already know: there are a lot of highly educated people in this town. But opportunity and affluence shouldn’t be confused with intelligence and knowledge.


2 Responses to “Is Bethesda really the smartest city?”

  1. Anonymous on December 21st, 2011 1:18 pm

    Intellegence and wealth are directly related, the smarter someone is the more money he is probably going to have, there are that many really smart people in poverty. Yes, a rich person has more opertunity then a poor one, but I can’t think of a dumb rich person (This requires that they made there own money and not mooch off parent/win lottery).

  2. Anonymous on December 22nd, 2011 12:57 pm

    I just want to make my point more clear, people in bethesda are not smart because they are rich, they are rich because they are smart, itellegence does not have anything to do with how wealthy you are.

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Is Bethesda really the smartest city?