America’s Best (and Worst) Educated States

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The number of Americans with college degrees has increased steadily in the last decade. According to the latest government data, 28.5% of U.S. residents 25 or older had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2011, up only slightly from 27.2% in 2005. While the number is relatively unchanged, there are substantial differences across the country. In West Virginia, the state with the lowest graduation rate, 18.5% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree. In Massachusetts, the state with the highest graduation rate, the figure is 39.1%.

Read: America’s Best-Educated States

Read: America’s Worst-Educated States

Based on education data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s’ American Community Survey, 24/7 Wall St. identified the U.S. states with the largest and smallest percentages of residents 25 or older with a college degree or more.

The difference in median income between those with only a high school diploma and a college degree is dramatic. The median pay for U.S. adults with just a high school diploma was $26,699 in 2011. For those 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree, median annual earnings came to $48,309. Residents with a graduate or professional degree did even better; median annual earnings was $64,322.

Differences in poverty rates related to education are just as dramatic. For U.S. adults with at least bachelor’s degrees, the percentage living in poverty in 2011 was just 4.4%. For adults with only a high school diploma, 14.2% were living below the poverty line.

The effects of wage gap by education becomes clear when comparing the states by graduation rate. Of the 10 states with the largest percentage of college-educated residents, eight are in the top 10 for median income. Among the worst-educated states, eight are among the 10 with the lowest median income.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the percentage of U.S. residents 25 or older with at least a bachelor’s degree for 2011 from the annual American Community Survey. From that survey, we obtained the percentage of adults that had completed an education at each major level, including high school, graduate and professional schools. We also examined poverty rates and median income for those at different levels of educational attainment.

These are America’s best and worst educated states.