Special Report

America's Most (and Least) Educated States

The Least Educated States in America

10. Tennessee
> Bachelor’s degree or higher: 24.8%
> Median household income: $44,297 (9th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty level: 17.8% (12th highest)

While roughly 30% of American adults had attained some form of higher education last year, less than one-quarter of Tennessee residents had at least a bachelor’s degree. Like most states with low educational attainment rates, Tennessee households struggle to make ends meet. More than 17% of households relied on food stamps last year, more than in all but a handful of states. Adults who had not completed high school earned a median income of just $18,706, one of the lowest median earnings for Americans without a high school diploma. Tennessee recently adopted an alternative high school equivalency test, which is expected to make a high school diploma even more accessible to adults in the state. And in an effort to improve college attainment rates, Governor Bill Haslam announced in February a plan to make all state community colleges absolutely free to residents.

9. Oklahoma
> Bachelor’s degree or higher: 23.8%
> Median household income: $45,690 (10th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty level: 16.8% (16th lowest)

Just over half of Oklahoma’s population between ages 18 and 24 had some college experience last year, lower than in all but a few other states. One reason residents may not want to pursue a college degree may be the low earnings for Oklahomans with a higher education. The median earnings of residents with a bachelor’s degree was just $41,397 in 2013, while the median of residents with even higher degrees was $52,610 that year, in both cases lower than in all but six other states. In June, Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill that replaced the use of Common Core State Standards — an initiative to standardize educational goals across states — with state-determined curriculum guidelines. The hope is that doing so will create a more rigorous curriculum that better prepares students for college and the workforce.

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8. Indiana
> Bachelor’s degree or higher: 23.8%
> Median household income: $47,529 (17th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty level: 15.9% (22nd lowest)

Just 51.6% of 18 to 24 year-olds in Indiana had at least some college experience as of last year, versus 55.7% of Americans that age. Additionally, less than 9% of state residents had a graduate or professional degree in 2013, also among the lower rates in the nation. Among those who had attained a graduate degree, the median income was less than $60,000 in 2013 versus a national median of $65,565. State residents as a whole were not particularly wealthy. A typical household earned $47,529, compared to the national median household income of $52,250. Also, just 2.6% of residents earned more than $200,000 last year, nearly half the proportion nationwide.

7. Alabama
> Bachelor’s degree or higher: 23.5%
> Median household income: $42,849 (4th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty level: 18.7% (7th lowest)

Alabama households earned slightly less than $43,000 in 2013, or nearly $10,000 less than the national median of $52,250. However, for the 23.5% of residents who had at least a bachelor’s degree, earnings were substantially higher. Yet, the 15.5% of residents who had not obtained a high school diploma or equivalent had median earnings of only $18,851, among the lowest in the nation. Additionally, more than 30% of such adults lived below the poverty line in 2013, higher than in most states nationwide.

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6. Kentucky
> Bachelor’s degree or higher: 22.6%
> Median household income: $43,399 (5th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty level: 18.8% (6th highest)

More than one in 10% Kentucky households earned less than $10,000 in 2013, versus 7.6% of households across the U.S. Additionally, 18.8% of residents lived below the poverty level, the sixth highest rate nationally. Poverty in the state may be due at least in part to low rates of educational attainment. Even those who pursued higher education poverty levels were more likely than most similarly-educated Americans to live below the poverty line. Of the less than 23% of residents who had attained at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013, 13.6% lived in poverty, among the worst rates nationwide.

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