Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Mother Lode residents are still more likely to be without a college degree than other Californians, according to a report released this fall by the Sonora Area Foundation.

Three-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that from 2008-10, about 17 percent of Tuolumne County residents 25 or older had at least a bachelor's degree.

The proportion for Calaveras County was slightly higher, about 19 percent.

That compares with the 30 percent of all Californians over the age of 25 who hold at least a bachelor's degree, according to a 2011 U.S. Census estimate.

Changes in educational attainment levels were outlined in the 2012 Tuolumne County Profile, released by the Sonora Area Foundation Sept. 19.

The report noted that while the percentage of Tuolumne County residents with bachelor's degrees is "significantly lower" than the state's, numbers have risen since 2000.

At that point, only 16 percent of Tuolumne County residents 25 or older had a bachelor's degree or higher, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The percentage of Calaveras County residents in the same category for 2000 was 17 percent, the same as it was from 2008-10.

In both counties, 33 percent of residents 25 and older have "some" college education but no degree, according to the 2008-10 Census estimates.

About 10 percent of people 25 and older in each county earned an associate's degree, more than California's 7.7 percent.

Mother Lode residents completed high school at higher rates than California residents as a whole. The three-year Census estimates for 2008-10 show that in Tuolumne County, 88 percent of residents 25 and older had completed high school. In Calaveras County, the rate was 93 percent.

Four-year degrees and graduate degrees remain correlated with the highest income. The three-year Census estimates show that the median annual salary for Tuolumne County residents with a bachelor's degree was about $51,000, compared with $23,000 for a high school graduate.

But several factors intersect to keep the numbers of Mother Lode residents with bachelor's or graduate degrees relatively low, according to educators and community leaders.

One may be the increasingly prohibitive cost of four-year college, and another is the type of jobs available locally, said Calaveras County Superintendent of Schools Kathy Northington.

"There's a lot of work up here that doesn't necessarily require a degree," she said.

Northington noted that schools in Calaveras County are seeking to boost the numbers of students who go on to college.

"But also, we're trying to prepare kids for going to a vocational program, just so they have some kind of skill to contribute and sustain themselves," she said.

Some local districts, like Sonora Union High School District, have undertaken concerted efforts to boost the number of students who graduate with prerequisite courses for California State University and University of California schools.

Larry Cope, director of economic development at the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, noted that local companies have had difficulty filling mechanical and software engineering jobs.

However, the local charm and "quality of life" are one factor luring skilled job candidates to the Mother Lode - including those who went to high school here and are returning to raise families.

Sonora Area Foundation President Ed Wyllie said he hopes the data in the Tuolumne County Profile will lead to more conversations about what local schools and organizations can do to boost educational attainment.

"This project … is for driving discussion and being able to get some ideas and out-of-the-box thinking about some of these indicators," Wyllie said.

Some of the discussion about community data could lead to grant applications for programs seeking to address specific needs, he added.

The Tuolumne County Profile noted some good news: Tuolumne County residents are registered to vote at a much higher percentage than California residents as a whole, according to data from the California Secretary of State.

In 2010, about 83 percent of eligible Tuolumne County residents were registered to vote compared with California's 73 percent. As of September 2012, 79 percent of eligible Tuolumne County residents were registered, the same percentage as in Calaveras County.

The expansive Tuolumne County Profile, authored by the Center for Economic Development at California State University Chico, also incorporates data on performing arts attendance, traffic volume, unemployment and a wide range of other local indicators.

The full report can be downloaded for free online at