Special Report

Most and Least Educated States

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, up 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 a large variation in the share of college-educated adults in parts of 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. 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. These are the college majors that will pay off the least.

Degree holders in the U.S. labor force are less likely to be unemployed than workers with lower educational attainment. College educated workers were also generally better insulated from the job losses prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, when the U.S. unemployment rate spiked from less than 4% in 2019 to more than 14% in April 2020, before declining back to 8.4% as of August. In many cities however, the unemployment rate remains far higher than the standing national rate. These are the cities with the biggest COVID-19 unemployment crisis.

Click here to see the most and least educated states