the Beacon Journal editorial board

Ohio long has suffered from a higher education gap. Analyses show the state ranking in the high 30s among its peers for the share of residents with a four-year college degree. Massachusetts leads the nation at 38 percent. Ohio falls 14 percentage points lower. It is imperative that the state perform better, especially in a global economy increasingly driven by knowledge.

Thus, the prize awarded on Wednesday to the University of Akron, Kent State University, Hiram College, Stark State College and the Northeast Ohio Medical University represents no small triumph. They grabbed first place in the national Talent Dividend competition, delivering the strongest increase in college attainment of any metropolitan area.

The measure in this instance covers two-year and four-year degrees. The Akron area pushed up its attainment rate an impressive 2.8 percentage points from 2009 to 2013.

The Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education has been pressing the cause in this region. The national organization CEO for Cities has been the lead sponsor for the competition. More, CEO for Cities has been at the front in stressing the need for the country to regain its place as the top performer globally in the number of people with higher education.

CEO for Cities also has been practical in setting benchmarks. It calls for metro areas (where the bulk of economic activity happens) to have the goal of increasing their degree attainment by increments of 1 percent, each step translating into a $2.8 billion boost for the regional economy.

So the achievement here does deserve loud applause.

At the same time, the hard work of such initiatives as Finish in Time at UA and the Graduation Planning System at Kent State must be sustained. For UA, the moment isnít too distant from its embarrassment at earlier graduation rates, especially among black students. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce calculates that by the end of the decade, 64 percent of jobs in Ohio will require some postsecondary education.

Of late, a counterargument has surfaced with some frequency, asserting that everyone need not go to college. That isnít the problem, not with one-quarter of Ohioans having four-year degrees. What the region and state must do is increase steadily the percentage, pursuing, as much as anything, a critical mass of creativity, all of us better off because as a whole we are more competitive.

The regrettable thing is, the state has retreated on its investment in higher education, spending in 2014 0.3 percent below 2004. That means, among other things, students bearing a larger burden of college costs and miserly pay for adjunct faculty. The thinking isnít that colleges and universities can skip finding efficiencies. They must do their part. Still, UA, Kent State and other public schools will not sustain an award-winning pace without significant help from the state.