Sure, Janet Kusterer has a master's degree. But then so do a lot of people in her Ellicott City neighborhood.
And bachelor's degrees? Please - a dime a dozen.
That's life in Howard County, where half the people more than 24 years old have a college education. Only seven counties in the United States can boast a larger percentage, according to Census 2000 data released this week.
People with advanced degrees - graduate, doctorate, professional - account for nearly a quarter of Howard's adult population, about the same as the nationwide percentage of people with undergraduate and advanced degrees combined.
"We found, well, yeah, you're not so special with a master's degree around here," said Kusterer. (Her husband has two.)
Consider that multiple degrees translate into much higher salaries, on average, and you have an explanation for Howard County's median household income of $74,100 and new homes that sell for $400,000 and up.
One result is that residents have a lot more in common and a lot less diversity of class than in a typical county, said Charles M. Christian, a University of Maryland professor of social and population geography.
But it is comfortable living. The well-educated usually behave civilly and keep their homes maintained, he said.
"They're the people that I believe most people would like to live around," Christian said.
Compiled from the "long form" questionnaires sent in 2000 to one household in six, the data suggest that such a concentration of education is partly the luck of geography. Federal government jobs attract the credentialed to suburbs around the area. Montgomery County, even closer to Washington, is also in the top 10 nationwide for its portion of college-educated residents, as are Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia.
The rest of the Baltimore metropolitan counties are above average nationally but fall far short of Howard and the Washington suburbs. In Baltimore County and Anne Arundel, 31 percent have a college education; in Harford, 27 percent. Nineteen percent of Baltimore residents have a college degree.
For Howard, the big draw appears to be schools. People with education tend to care about education, and - as any Realtor will attest - they seek homes here because the public school system has a reputation for excellence.
These parents aren't complacent, either. They continually call schools with queries, concerns, complaints and suggestions. They follow national teaching trends. They know what services other school systems offer.
Expectations are high.
"This is no longer Mayberry, where Miss Crump was highly revered and no one would question her decisions or her teaching," said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "As the population becomes more educated, it puts the parent and the teacher on more equal footing. [Sometimes] the parent has the higher degree."
The second smallest county in the state by land mass, Howard has 67 public schools and 75 private schools, many of the latter for kindergarten and prekindergarten education.
County libraries benefit from the all-consuming focus on learning: Ninety-five percent of residents have library cards.
By comparison, the North Suburban Library System, which serves an upwardly mobile community on the outskirts of Chicago, has signed up about 75 percent of the population.
"It's just astonishing; it's wonderful," said Howard County library director Valerie J. Gross, who has two master's degrees and a law degree. "We're probably among the highest in the country."
In an effort to get that final 5 percent, the library system and schools are launching a program in September to put card application forms in the hands of every new student, she said.
People in Howard like to read, she has noticed. When library volunteers held a book sale in April, people had lined up outside by 6:30 a.m. - an hour and a half before the sale started. They raised $5,500.
"I was floored," Gross said.
Joan Lancos, a Columbia resident whose 10-year term on the Planning Board ended last month, said education levels are obvious when people show up to argue their cases against development.
It is not unusual to see residents who are authorities in their own right - civil engineers, landscape architects, historical preservationists, lawyers. Neighbors without such expertise often throw themselves into research and come out knowledgeable, she said.
"I did that very thing myself when I was against a proposal in my community: I became a traffic expert," Lancos said. "People have the willingness to learn new things."
At Howard Community College, about 15 percent of the students who enroll in for-credit classes have at least an undergraduate degree. Bob Eshelman, an Ellicott City resident with a master's degree in electrical engineering, just finished taking 2 1/2 years of specialized computer networking courses at the school.