IT DID NOT take long to fill the New Yorker magazine discussion group at the Belvedere-Tiburon Library when it was created several years ago.
"We've had a waiting list since we started," said Bonnie Spiesberger, the group's organizer and chairwoman of the library's governing agency. "We have retired physicians, we have retired attorneys, some people are still working. It's a mixture."
Welcome to life in California's most-educated county, where lawyers abound and there is a degree-holder in every topic that arises at city hall.
An estimated 54 percent of adults 25 and older in Marin have a bachelor's degree and 22.5 percent have an advanced degree, more than in any other California county and among the highest rates nationwide, according to new survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Statistical margins of error preclude exact comparisons between cities, but the figures are much higher in the wealthiest parts of the county. In Ross, a high of 80.4 percent of adults are estimated to hold bachelor's degrees and in Tiburon an estimated 37.8 percent hold advanced degrees.
The figures are not surprising because education tends to track with income, said Robert Eyler, interim CEO of the Marin Economic Forum and a professor at Sonoma State University.
"We've had a long-term immigration of relatively wealthy and thus relatively educated individuals and families from the Bay Area overall seeking a less metropolitan living situation," he said.
But if education is simply a product of Marin's wealth, its impact on public life still extends beyond money.
Just ask Ross Mayor Rupert Russell, an Oxford-educated lawyer and one of three attorneys on the town council.
"In Marin County, you know that when you go to a meeting and you meet other council members, as you do from time to time, they are usually very interesting people and they have usually got the ability to out-argue you or at least go toe-to-toe with you because they are well-educated people too," he said. "You just need to come to a council meeting in Ross and you'll see we are like and old-fashioned Athenian democracy."
His council colleague Beach Kuhl agrees.
"It improves the level of dialogue about community issues," said Kuhl, who has an economics degree from Cornell University and a law degree from Stanford University."
Kuhl, who serves on the Marin Transportation Commission, pointed to the ongoing debate over the proposed Highway 101 interchange in Greenbrae.
"There are a lot of interesting points being raised on both sides of the issue and I think "... people are better equipped to analyze the issues, to see the flaws in them and to see the strengths in them and provide well articulated responses to suggestions about how things ought to be done," he said.
The impact of education doesn't necessarily carry over into social life, he said.
"The conversation is no better at a cocktail party," he said. "We still end up talking about baseball and minutia that don't really matter."
At the Belvedere-Tiburon Library, the New Yorker group is one of clubs alongside contemporary fiction, Spanish, Italian and French. Alice Fredericks, a town councilwoman who ran the fiction group for 15 years, said the library has been a priority for a community that values -- and can afford -- education. Less than two decades after its construction, the library is already set for a major expansion.
"The resources are available because people have a passion about having that resource," said Fredericks, who holds both a doctorate in behavioral medicine and a law degree.
Compared with her counterparts in Ross, Fredericks sees less of an impact from education on local political discourse.
"Regardless of education level, there are people who are simply driven by their emotional relation to things," she said.
The high level of education in Marin is also not universal. In low-income areas such as San Rafael's Canal neighborhood and Marin City a college education is more rare, said Julia van der Ryn, a humanities instructor who runs service learning programs at Dominican University of California.
"The picture is rosy for some and a lot less rosy for others," she said.
Contact Will Jason via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at http://twitter.com/willjason ___