Special Report

The Most and Least Educated States

Source: BackyardProduction / Getty Images

50. West Virginia
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 21.1% (2019); 21.3% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $45,304 (4th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $35,440
> Unemployment: 4.9% (2019); 5.2% (2018)

Only 21.1% of West Virginia residents aged 25 and up have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the smallest share of any state in the country. The state’s low bachelor’s degree attainment rate may partially be explained by the relatively small financial incentive. The typical worker with a bachelor’s degree in West Virginia earns $45,304 a year, only about $10,000 more than the median earnings for workers of all education levels. Meanwhile, nationwide, the typical worker with a bachelor’s degree earns $56,344, about $15,000 more than the median earnings for all workers.

Source: dszc / Getty Images

49. Mississippi
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 22.3% (2019); 23.2% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $44,148 (2nd lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $32,574
> Unemployment: 5.4% (2019); 4.8% (2018)

Mississippi is one of just three states in which fewer than a quarter of adults 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree. It is also just one of two states in which most college graduates earn less than $45,000 per year. Fewer well-paying jobs for those with a bachelor’s degree may partially explain the relatively small share of adults with a four-year college education in Mississippi.

Source: BlazenImages / Getty Images

48. Arkansas
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 23.3% (2019); 23.3% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $46,964 (6th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $35,215
> Unemployment: 3.5% (2019); 3.6% (2018)

Only 23.3% of adults in Arkansas have a bachelor’s degree or higher — 10 percentage points below the 33.1% national bachelor’s degree attainment rate. Incomes tend to rise with educational attainment, and states with lower educational attainment rates also tend to have lower than average incomes and higher poverty.

In Arkansas, the typical household earns $48,952 a year, well below the national median household income of $65,712. Additionally, 16.2% of Arkansas residents live below the poverty line, compared to 12.3% of Americans nationwide.

Source: Jaimie Tuchman / Getty Images

47. Louisiana
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 25.0% (2019); 24.3% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $50,699 (17th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $37,599
> Unemployment: 4.8% (2019); 4.9% (2018)

In Louisiana, only about one in every four adults have a four-year college degree or higher, compared to about one in every three adults nationwide. Though the share is small, it represents a larger increase from the previous year than in most of the country. In 2018, only 24.3% of adults in Louisiana had a bachelor’s degree.

Incomes tend to rise with educational attainment, and from 2018 to 2019, the median household income also climbed in Louisiana. The typical household in the state earned $51,073 in 2019, a greater than average 4.9% increase from 2018.

Source: Cris Ritchie Photo / Getty Images

46. Kentucky
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 25.1% (2019); 24.8% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $50,711 (18th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $37,674
> Unemployment: 4.3% (2019); 4.3% (2018)

The bachelor’s degree attainment rate in Kentucky stands at 25.1%, the fifth lowest among states and well below the 33.1% national share. Americans who have a four-year college education are far less likely to face serious financial hardship than those with lower educational attainment. In Kentucky, 16.3% of the population lives below the poverty line, the fourth highest poverty rate of any state, and well above the 12.3% national poverty rate.