Special Report

Most and Least Educated States

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14. Utah (tied)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34.8% (2019); 34.9% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $51,611 (23rd lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $41,679
> Unemployment: 2.6% (2019); 3.0% (2018)

Both job and financial security tend to rise with educational attainment. In Utah, 34.5% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, higher than in most other states and above the 33.1% national bachelor’s degree attainment rate.

Likely due in part to the state’s larger than average college-educated population, only 3.6% of households in the state earn less than $10,000 a year, the smallest share of any state and well below the 5.8% comparable national share. Additionally, Utah’s 2.6% annual unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country and well below the comparable 3.7% national jobless rate.

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14. Rhode Island (tied)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34.8% (2019); 34.4% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $57,398 (13th highest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $46,060
> Unemployment: 3.6% (2019); 4.0% (2018)

In Rhode Island, nearly 35% of adults have a bachelor’s degree, tied with Utah for the 14th largest share among states. However, compared to much of the New England region, Rhode Island’s bachelor’s degree attainment rate is relatively low. Maine is the only New England state with a lower educational attainment rate than Rhode Island.

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13. California
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35.0% (2019); 34.2% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $65,078 (4th highest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $45,095
> Unemployment: 4.0% (2019); 4.3% (2018)

California is one of 13 states with a bachelor’s degree attainment rate of 35% or higher, despite the fact that it has the lowest high school diploma attainment rate of any state. Just 84% of Californians 25 and older have finished high school. Meanwhile, 88.6% of all American adults in the same age group have a high school diploma.

Though workers with a college education tend to earn higher incomes than those without in every state, the difference is especially stark in California. Median earnings for all workers ranks 13th among states, at just over $45,000. Meanwhile, the typical worker with a bachelor’s degree in the state earns nearly $20,000 more per year, at $65,000. Only three states have a higher median income among workers with a bachelor’s degree.

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12. Illinois
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35.8% (2019); 35.1% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $60,357 (10th highest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $45,015
> Unemployment: 4.0% (2019); 4.3% (2018)

With a bachelor’s degree attainment rate of 35.8%, Illinois ranks as the 12th most educated state. Job security tends to go up with educational attainment, and the state also had the 12th highest annual unemployment rate in 2019, at 4.0%. Though Illinois has one of the highest bachelor’s degree attainment rates among states, its high school diploma attainment rate is lower than that of most states, at just under 90%.

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11. Washington
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 37.0% (2019); 36.7% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $62,447 (7th highest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $48,567
> Unemployment: 4.3% (2019); 4.5% (2018)

Washington ranks as the second best educated state in the West — trailing only Colorado — and the eleventh best educated nationwide. Of all adults 25 and older in the state, 37.0% have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 33.1% of adults nationwide.

Incomes tend to be higher in better educated states, and Washington is no exception. The typical household in the state earns $78,687 annually — about $13,000 more than the national median household income.