Special Report

America's Most and Least Educated States: A Survey of All 50

46. Louisiana
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree:
22.9%
> Pct. of adults with at least a high school diploma: 83.6%
> 2014 median household income: $44,555 (7th lowest)
> Median earnings for bachelor degree holders: $46,903 (7th lowest)

Educational attainment is tied to wealth, and areas with low education attainment rates are likely to have low income levels. Louisiana is no exception. Just 83.6% of Louisiana adults had graduated high school, and just 22.9% had a bachelor’s degree — the fourth and fifth lowest such educational attainment rates in the country, respectively. Also, the median household income in Louisiana was $44,555, the seventh lowest of any state. Almost one in five Louisianians lived below the poverty line, the third highest poverty rate in the country. State spending on education is often associated with better educational outcomes. Although Louisiana spent $10,490 per student in 2013, roughly in line with the national average expenditure of $10,700 per pupil, it had one of the least educated populations in the country.

47. Kentucky
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree:
22.2%
> Pct. of adults with at least a high school diploma: 84.5%
> 2014 median household income: $42,958 (5th lowest)
> Median earnings for bachelor degree holders: $43,798 (5th lowest)

The cost of attending a U.S. college is extremely high, and even qualified graduates of well-funded secondary schools have difficulty pursuing higher education. Socioeconomic factors likely played a role in Kentucky residents’ low education levels — the state had the fourth lowest college attainment rate last year. The state’s poverty rate of 19.1% and the median household income of $42,958 were each the fifth worst nationwide.

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48. Arkansas
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree:
21.4%
> Pct. of adults with at least a high school diploma: 85.3%
> 2014 median household income: $41,262 (3rd lowest)
> Median earnings for bachelor degree holders: $43,020 (3rd lowest)

The college attainment rate in Arkansas increased by nearly a full percentage point from 20.6% in 2013 to 21.4% in 2014. Despite the increase, Arkansas was home to the third smallest share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree in the United States. Just as high income levels are associated with better educated populations, low education levels are linked with relatively low incomes. In Arkansas, a typical household earned just $41,262, the third lowest median income in the nation. Traditionally lower paying retail jobs are much less likely to require college educated workers. In Arkansas, 13.4% of its working population is employed in the sector, significantly more than the 11.5% of the nation’s workers.

49. Mississippi
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree:
21.1%
> Pct. of adults with at least a high school diploma: 82.8%
> 2014 median household income: $39,680 (the lowest)
> Median earnings for bachelor degree holders: $41,004 (the lowest)

Residents with college degrees are more likely to be able to find work than those with just a high school diploma or less. Perhaps as a result of Mississippi’s lower rate of educational attainment, the state had an unemployment rate of 7.8%, which is tied for Nevada as the highest in the country. Retail jobs usually do not require a college education. In Mississippi, 12.4% of its working population is employed in the sector, the seventh highest share nationwide of workers employed in the traditionally low-paying sector.

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50. West Virginia
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree:
19.2%
> Pct. of adults with at least a high school diploma: 85.2%
> 2014 median household income: $41,059 (2nd lowest)
> Median earnings for bachelor degree holders: $40,963 (2nd lowest)

Less than one in five adults in West Virginia had a college degree, the only state where this was the case and the lowest proportion in the nation. Unlike most states with the lowest educational attainment rates, West Virginia had relatively high school spending. West Virginia spent $11,132 per public school student in 2013, higher than the average national education expenditure of $10,700. Yet, the state’s high school attainment rate — just 85% of adults had at least a high school diploma — was nearly the lowest in the country. Retail jobs are much less likely to require college educated workers. In West Virginia, 13.1% of the working population was employed in the traditionally low-paying sector, versus 11.5% of the nation’s workers. The state had the second-lowest median household income in the country, at $41,059.