The number of executives who have only high school diplomas soared at the four major local financial groups in September from a year ago despite a fall in the total number of the groups\' executives, data showed Wednesday. According to the data by research company CEO Score, the number of executives with only a high school education rose 80 percent from five to nine during the above-cited period at 44 subsidiaries under the wings of the four financial groups-- KB, Shinan, Woori and Hana. The prolonged economic slump also decreased the number of their executives and reduced their ages, the company said. The number of executives who graduated from colleges in provincial cities, except for Seoul, rose 42.1 percent to 27 from 19 in September from a year earlier. In South Korean companies, education backgrounds play a key role in promoting employees, with ones who get diplomas from universities in Seoul given preferential treatment in the promotion process. Big local companies prefer graduates from colleges in Seoul, especially Seoul National University, Yonsei University and Korea University, to ones from other colleges as their employees. The companies usually predict graduates from the three colleges have greater potential than those from other colleges, as they received high grades on the college entrance exams. In particular, the number of executives graduating from Korea University, the alma mater of former President Lee Myung-bak, came to 16 in September, down by four from a year ago. During President Lee\'s five-year term, which started in Feb. 2008, bankers graduating from Korea University took control over the four financial groups with the full support of the former president.