Special Report

The Most and Least Educated States

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39. Idaho (tied)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 28.7% (2019); 27.7% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $46,364 (5th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $36,445
> Unemployment: 2.9% (2019); 2.9% (2018)

Incomes tend to rise with educational attainment — and in Idaho, just 28.7% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, one of the smallest shares of any state. Despite the low educational attainment, serious financial hardship is less common than average in Idaho. Only 11.2% of Idaho residents live below the poverty line, compared to 12.3% of Americans nationwide.

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39. Tennessee (tied)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 28.7% (2019); 27.5% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $50,633 (15th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $37,610
> Unemployment: 3.4% (2019); 3.5% (2018)

Between 2018 and 2019, the share of adults with a four-year college education climbed more in Tennessee than in all but a handful of other states. The state’s bachelor’s degree attainment rate now stands at 28.7% — up 1.2 percentage points from the previous year.

Adults with a bachelor’s degree are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to earn higher incomes than those with lower educational attainment. Though there are multiple additional factors at play, in keeping with that pattern, as Tennessee’s bachelor’s degree attainment rate climbed, the state’s average unemployment rate dipped by a fraction of a percent and the median household income climbed 5.3% — from $53,274 in 2018 to $56,071 in 2019.

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38. Wyoming
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 29.1% (2019); 26.9% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $47,962 (12th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $40,800
> Unemployment: 3.6% (2019); 3.9% (2018)

The financial incentive for earning a bachelor’s degree in Wyoming is relatively small. The typical worker in the state with a four-year college education earns $47,962 a year, only about $7,000 more than the median annual earnings for workers of all education levels in the state. Meanwhile, nationwide, the typical worker with a bachelor’s degree earns $56,344, about $15,000 more than all the median earnings for all workers. Fewer well-paying jobs that require a college degree may partially explain Wyoming’s low bachelor’s degree attainment rate. Just 29.1% of the state’s 25 and older population have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 33.1% of adults in the same age group nationwide.

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36. Iowa (tied)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 29.3% (2019); 29.0% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $51,751 (25th lowest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $41,268
> Unemployment: 2.7% (2019); 2.6% (2018)

Adults in Iowa are less likely than most American adults to have a four-year college education. Just 29.3% of state residents 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 33.1% of American adults. However, Iowa performs better than the country as a whole in other measures of educational attainment. An estimated 92.6% of the state’s 25 and older residents have a high school diploma or equivalent, compared with just 88.6% of adults nationwide.

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36. Ohio (tied)
> Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 29.3% (2019); 29.0% (2018)
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders:/strong> $53,680 (18th highest)
> Median earnings for all workers: $40,586
> Unemployment: 4.1% (2019); 4.5% (2018)

Ohio’s bachelor’s degree attainment rate of 29.3% is the 15th lowest among states and the third lowest in the Midwest. Incomes tend to rise with educational attainment, and just as Ohio adults residents are less likely than American adults to be college educated, they are also less likely to be high earners. The median annual household income in the state is $58,642, about $7,000 less than the national median of $65,712. Additionally, only 5.4% of households in Ohio earn $200,000 or more per year, compared to 8.5% of households nationwide.