Special Report

The Most Educated Cities

7. Ames, Iowa
> Bachelor’s degree or higher: 48.2%
> Median household income: $50,279 (153rd highest)
> Median earnings – bachelor’s degree: $42,482 (155th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 23.5% (22nd highest)

The high proportion of college graduates in Ames is due in large part to the presence of Iowa State University, which is also one of the region’s largest employers. The university also explains the disproportionately high numbers of young people living in Ames. More than 22% of the local population is between 20 and 24 years old, versus less than 8% of the nation. Despite the area’s exceptionally high educational attainment rates, residents with bachelor’s degrees tend to earn less than their peers nationwide. A typical Ames resident with a bachelor’s degree earned $42,482 in 2013, versus the national median of more than $50,000.

6. Iowa City, Iowa
> Bachelor’s degree or higher: 48.6%
> Median household income: $52,220 (116th highest)
> Median earnings – bachelor’s degree: $38,807 (52nd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.6% (154th lowest)

Compared with other metro areas in Iowa, Iowa City had the highest educational attainment rate and was tied for the lowest unemployment rate, at 3.2% in September. Like most of the cities on this list, Iowa City is the site of a major research institution. More than 30,000 students attend the University of Iowa, and many of them will likely remain in the city after graduation. While attaining a college degree is frequently a reliable path to high wages, median earnings among Iowa City residents with bachelor’s degrees were quite low, at just $38,807. A typical resident with a high school diploma, on the other hand, earned $34,278, among the highest figures compared to similarly educated Americans.

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5. Lawrence, Kan.
> Bachelor’s degree or higher: 50.4%
> Median household income: $52,150 (117th highest)
> Median earnings – bachelor’s degree: $39,913 (63rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 17.1% (151st highest)

Lawrence was one of only five U.S. cities in which more than half of the adult population had attained at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013. Also, 95.5% had completed at least high school, the second-highest rate nationwide. The University of Kansas is located in the city and is likely an attraction for both employers and future well-educated residents. While Lawrence no doubt benefits from having a well-educated community, high incomes are not guaranteed. The median earnings for residents with bachelor’s degrees was just $39,913, one of the lower such figures nationwide.