Special Report

The Most and Least Educated States

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45. Nevada
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 25.7% (2019); 24.9% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $50,293 (13th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $39,505
> Unemployment: 3.9% (2019); 4.4% (2018)

Though Nevada’s 25.7% bachelor’s degree attainment rate is well below the national rate of 33.1%, it is on the rise, increasing from 24.9% in 2018. The 0.8 percentage point increase is one of the larger increases among states.

Adults with a college education tend to have better job security. Still, despite this increase in educational attainment, Nevada’s economy remains largely focused on tourism and has been hit especially hard by COVID-19. Its April unemployment rate spiked to over 30.1% and remains the highest in the nation, at 13.2% as of August.

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44. Oklahoma
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.2% (2019); 25.6% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $47,828 (11th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $38,088
> Unemployment: 3.3% (2019); 3.4% (2018)

Across the U.S., workers 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree earn approximately $14,500 more than all workers that age, regardless of educational attainment. Yet in Oklahoma, median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders outpace the overall median earnings by less than $10,000.

College-educated workers are less likely to struggle with poverty, and Oklahoma, which has the seventh lowest educational attainment rate, has the eighth highest poverty rate at 15.2%, well above the 12.3% nationwide poverty rate.

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43. Alabama
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.3% (2019); 25.5% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $50,643 (16th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $37,217
> Unemployment: 3.0% (2019); 3.9% (2018)

Though Alabama has one of the lower bachelor’s degree attainment rates of all states, at 26.3%, the rate is improving — up 0.8 percentage points from 2018. Meanwhile, the national bachelor’s degree attainment rate climbed by just 0.5 percentage points over the same period.

Unemployment tends to be lower among workers with a college degree. As the share of college-educated adults in the state increased, the state’s unemployment rate dropped from 3.9% in 2018 to 3.0% in 2019, the largest improvement of any state.

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42. Indiana
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26.9% (2019); 27.1% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $50,630 (14th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $39,833
> Unemployment: 3.3% (2019); 3.5% (2018)

In Indiana, only 26.9% of residents aged 25 and up have a bachelor’s degree or higher, well below the 33.1% share of adults nationwide. 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 Indiana earns $50,630 a year, only about $11,000 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.

41. New Mexico
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 27.7% (2019); 27.7% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $45,109 (3rd lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $35,284
> Unemployment: 4.9% (2019); 4.9% (2018)

In New Mexico, 27.7% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the second smallest share of any western state and the 10th smallest share nationwide. Nationwide, the typical worker with a bachelor’s degree earns over $56,000 a year. In New Mexico, however, the median earnings for those with a four-year college education is just $45,109. Fewer well-paying job opportunities for the college educated in the state likely reduces the incentive for individuals to invest the time and money in higher education.