Special Report

America’s Least College-Educated States

skynesher / E+ via Getty Images

Education levels are on the rise in the United States. According to newly released estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 79.9 million American adults – 35% of the nation’s 25 and older population – have a bachelor’s degree or higher. As recently as five years ago, fewer than 33% of American adults had a bachelor’s degree.

A college education has long been a key driver of upward mobility in the United States. However, enrollment costs at colleges and universities have soared in recent years, making a four-year postsecondary education prohibitively expensive for many working- and middle-class families. 

Costs are not the only consideration to weigh before attending college. For some small business owners and those pursuing a career in the trades, the military, law enforcement, or public safety, a bachelor’s degree may not be necessary. (Here is a look at the highest paying jobs you can get without a college degree.)

In some parts of the country, Americans are far less likely to have a four-year college degree than in others. Using 2021 ACS data, 24/7 Wall St. identified the least educated states in the country. In each of the 30 states on this list, the share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is below the 35% national average. 

While the decision to attend college is a personal one, bachelor’s degree holders have some clear advantages in the workforce, including higher earning potential. Median earnings in 2021 among workers with a bachelor’s degree stood at $61,073, compared to $35,019 among working adults with no more than a high school diploma. Due in part to lower than average bachelor’s degree attainment rates, in nearly every state on this list, median earnings across all working adults are below the $45,943 national median. (Here is a look at the states where a college education pays off the most.)

Not only does a college degree open up higher-paying job opportunities, but it also provides greater job security. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among bachelor’s degree holders stood at 3.5% in 2021, well below the 6.2% jobless rate among those with only a high school diploma. Despite this broader trend, many states on this list had a better than average unemployment rate last year.

Click here to see America’s least college-educated states.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

30. North Carolina
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 34.9%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 89.7% (17th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $55,494 (25th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $42,244 (18th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.8% (25th highest)

[in-text-ad]

Source: peeterv / iStock via Getty Images

29. Montana
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 34.8%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 94.4% (4th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $50,126 (4th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $40,537 (9th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.4% (5th lowest — tied)

Source: Kruck20 / iStock via Getty Images

28. Georgia
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 34.6%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 89.0% (14th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $60,454 (17th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $43,055 (20th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.9% (15th lowest — tied)

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

27. Pennsylvania
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 34.5%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.9% (19th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $61,170 (16th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $47,140 (16th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 6.3% (6th highest — tied)

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Davel5957 / iStock via Getty Images

26. Nebraska
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 34.4%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 92.2% (16th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $53,663 (19th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $44,532 (24th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 2.5% (the lowest)

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

25. Florida
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 33.2%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 89.8% (19th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $51,381 (12th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $40,465 (8th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.6% (23rd lowest — tied)

[in-text-ad]

Source: f11photo / iStock via Getty Images

24. Texas
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 33.1%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 85.4% (2nd lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $61,341 (15th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $43,802 (23rd lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.7% (12th highest — tied)

Source: Jacob Boomsma / iStock via Getty Images

23. Alaska
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 32.8%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 93.3% (10th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $60,141 (18th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $50,554 (11th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 6.4% (5th highest)

Source: ImagesbyK / iStock via Getty Images

22. Wisconsin
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 32.5%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 93.3% (8th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $58,745 (20th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $46,322 (18th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.8% (13th lowest — tied)

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: 4kodiak / E+ via Getty Images

21. Arizona
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 32.4%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 89.0% (13th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $57,474 (22nd highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $44,330 (25th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.9% (24th highest)

20. North Dakota
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 31.7%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 93.6% (6th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $54,510 (21st lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $46,025 (19th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.7% (12th lowest)

[in-text-ad]

Source: tomofbluesprings / iStock via Getty Images

19. Missouri
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 31.7%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.6% (22nd highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $53,855 (20th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $42,084 (16th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.4% (21st lowest)

Source: pawel.gaul / E+ via Getty Images

18. Michigan
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 31.7%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 92.0% (17th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $59,740 (19th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $43,495 (21st lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.9% (10th highest)

Source: peeterv / iStock via Getty Images

17. South Dakota
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 31.7%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 93.1% (12th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $51,375 (11th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $42,204 (17th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.1% (3rd lowest)

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Kruck20 / iStock via Getty Images

16. South Carolina
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 31.5%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 89.6% (16th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $51,257 (10th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $40,974 (12th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.0% (17th lowest — tied)

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

15. Ohio
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 30.7%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.7% (21st highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $58,453 (21st highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $43,794 (22nd lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.1% (22nd highest)

[in-text-ad]

Source: vkbhat / E+ via Getty Images

14. Idaho
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 30.7%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.3% (25th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $50,581 (6th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $40,800 (11th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.6% (10th lowest — tied)

Source: dangarneau / iStock via Getty Images

13. Iowa
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 30.5%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 93.3% (9th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $55,434 (24th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $44,644 (23rd highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.2% (19th lowest)

Source: f11photo / iStock via Getty Images

12. Tennessee
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 30.5%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 89.7% (18th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $53,286 (18th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $41,181 (13th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.3% (20th lowest)

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

11. New Mexico
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 30.1%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 87.5% (6th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $49,976 (3rd lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $39,826 (4th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 6.8% (4th highest)

Source: DenisTangneyJr / E+ via Getty Images

10. Wyoming
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 29.2%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 93.6% (7th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $50,596 (7th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $41,898 (15th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.5% (22nd lowest)

[in-text-ad]

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

9. Indiana
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 28.9%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 90.6% (21st lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $54,525 (22nd lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $42,955 (19th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.6% (10th lowest — tied)

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

8. Oklahoma
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 27.9%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 88.7% (11th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $50,771 (8th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $40,163 (5th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.8% (13th lowest — tied)

Source: f11photo / iStock via Getty Images

7. Nevada
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 27.6%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 87.2% (5th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $52,227 (15th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $41,237 (14th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 7.2% (2nd highest)

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: George Dodd / iStock via Getty Images

6. Alabama
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 27.4%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 87.9% (7th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $52,385 (16th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $40,362 (6th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.4% (5th lowest — tied)

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

5. Kentucky
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 27.0%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 88.0% (8th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $51,906 (14th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $40,448 (7th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.7% (25th lowest)

[in-text-ad]

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

4. Louisiana
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 26.4%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 86.7% (4th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $52,491 (17th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $40,562 (10th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.5% (17th highest)

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

3. Arkansas
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 25.3%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 88.7% (10th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $51,046 (9th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $37,936 (2nd lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.0% (17th lowest — tied)

Source: CrackerClips / iStock via Getty Images

2. Mississippi
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 24.8%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 86.5% (3rd lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $45,353 (the lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $37,148 (the lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.6% (15th highest — tied)

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

1. West Virginia
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 24.1%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 88.8% (12th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $50,534 (5th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $39,449 (3rd lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.0% (23rd highest)

Methodology

To identify the least educated states in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed educational attainment data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey. States are ranked by the share of adults 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Only the states with bachelor’s degree attainment rates below the 35.0% national average are included on this list. 

Supplemental data on adults with a high school diploma and earnings by education level are also from the 2021 ACS. 

We also considered 2021 annual unemployment rates at the state level from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

ALERT: Take This Retirement Quiz Now  (Sponsored)

Take the quiz below to get matched with a financial advisor today.

Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests.

Here’s how it works:
1. Answer SmartAsset advisor match quiz
2. Review your pre-screened matches at your leisure. Check out the advisors’ profiles.
3. Speak with advisors at no cost to you. Have an introductory call on the phone or introduction in person and choose whom to work with in the future

Take the retirement quiz right here.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Wall St. editorial team.