Special Report

America's Most and Least Educated States

46. Kentucky
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 23.4%
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders: $47,610 (24th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,659 (6th lowest)
> 2016 unemployment: 5.0% (18th highest)

A college education is one of the most practical ways for an individual to increase their earning potential. In Kentucky, the bachelor’s degree attainment rate of 23.4% is nearly the lowest in the nation and far below the 31.3% national rate. Partially as a result, a relatively large share of state residents are poor. The typical household in the state earns only $46,659 a year, over $10,000 below the income the typical American household earns. Additionally, 18.5% of state residents live in poverty, a higher poverty rate than in all but three other states.

Source: faungg's photos / Flickr

47. Louisiana
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 23.4%
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders: $46,163 (15th lowest)
> Median household income: $45,146 (4th lowest)
> 2016 unemployment: 6.1% (3rd highest)

A highly educated workforce can a boon to a state’s economy. In Louisiana, only 23.4% of adults have earned a bachelor’s degree, nearly the smallest share of any state in the country. Also, the state’s annual unemployment rate of 6.1% is worse than in all but two other states.

College-educated adults are also more likely to be financially stable than those without a four-year education. Louisiana’s low college attainment rate may partially explain the 20.2% of state residents who live below the poverty line — the second highest poverty rate in the country after only Mississippi.

Source: Thinkstock

48. Arkansas
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 22.4%
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders: $45,963 (12th lowest)
> Median household income: $44,334 (3rd lowest)
> 2016 unemployment: 4.0% (15th lowest)

A disproportionately large share of workers in Arkansas are employed in sectors that generally do not require a college education. For example, 14.1% of the state’s labor force is in retail trade, the sector’s highest employment concentration of any state. Indeed, only 22.4% of adults in the state have a bachelor’s degree, the third smallest share of any state and well below the 31.3% share of American adults.

Source: Thinkstock

49. Mississippi
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 21.8%
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders: $42,130 (5th lowest)
> Median household income: $41,754 (the lowest)
> 2016 unemployment: 5.8% (7th highest)

The share of adults with a bachelor’s degree in Mississippi climbed by a percentage point in 2016, slightly outpacing the 0.7 percentage point improvement nationwide. Still, Mississippi remains the second least educated state in the country as only 21.8% of adults have earned a bachelor’s degree — nearly 10 percentage points below the national college attainment rate.

Populations with higher educational attainment typically report higher incomes. In Mississippi, the typical household earns only $41,754 a year, the lowest of any state in the country.

Source: Thinkstock

50. West Virginia
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 20.8%
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders: $42,318 (6th lowest)
> Median household income: $43,385 (2nd lowest)
> 2016 unemployment: 6.0% (4th highest)

Roughly 1 in 5 adults in West Virginia have a bachelor’s degree, the smallest share of any state in the country and over 10 percentage points below the share of adults nationwide. A college degree is one of the most common ways for workers to increase their earning potential and avoid serious financial hardship. Across West Virginia, 17.9% of adults rely on government assistance in the form of food stamps, the highest recipiency rate of any state.

The state is also home to very few high income individuals. Only 2.5% of West Virginia households earn more than $200,000 a year, the smallest share of any state.