The percentage of American adults with a college degree has continued to increase in recent years, growing from less than 10% in much of the 1960s to 33.1% in 2019. Americans with college degrees not only tend to earn higher incomes than those without, but they also typically have longer and healthier lives.
Though bachelor’s degree attainment rates are increasing, there is still much variation in the share of college-educated adults across the country. In a handful of states, over 40% of all adults 25 and older have graduated from college. In others, fewer than one quarter hold at least a bachelor’s degree.
To determine the most and least educated states, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on educational attainment from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey (ACS). States were ranked based on the percentage of adults 25 years and over with at least a bachelor’s degree. Supplemental data on median household income and median earnings by educational attainment also came from the 2019 ACS. Data on annual average unemployment and monthly unemployment came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
States with the highest educational attainment rates tend to be in Northeast. Meanwhile, the states that are home to the smallest share of college-educated adults are disproportionately concentrated in the South.
While bachelor’s degree holders tend to be financially better off than those without, this is not always the case. Certain majors do not promise the same income potential as others, and some graduates may make well below half of what the typical college graduate makes in a given year.
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 21.1% (2019); 21.3% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders: $45,304 (4th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $35,440
> Unemployment: 4.9% (2019); 5.2% (2018)
Only 21.1% of West Virginia residents aged 25 and up have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the smallest share of any state in the country. The state’s low bachelor’s degree attainment rate may be explained partially by the relatively small financial incentive. The typical worker with a bachelor’s degree in West Virginia earns $45,304 a year, only about $10,000 more than the median earnings for workers of all education levels. Meanwhile, nationwide, the typical worker with a bachelor’s degree earns $56,344, about $15,000 more than the median earnings for all workers.
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