Special Report

States Where the Most People Have Gone to College

A college education has long been a key driver of upward economic mobility in the United States – and the share of Americans with a four-year college degree is on the rise.  

According to newly released estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 79.9 million American adults, or 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.

Educational attainment rates across the U.S. vary, however, and some states have relatively larger college-educated populations than others. Using 2021 ACS data, 24/7 Wall St. identified the most educated states in the country. In each of the 20 states on this list, the share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is above the 35% national average. 

While four years of college may not be right for everyone, bachelor’s degree holders have some clear advantages in the workforce, including higher earning potential. Among workers with a bachelor’s degree, median earnings stood at $61,073 in 2021, compared to a median of $35,019 among working adults with no more than a high school diploma. 

Due in part to higher than average bachelor’s degree attainment rates, the earnings of the typical worker exceed the national median of $45,943 in most states on this list. (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, several states on this list had a higher than average unemployment rate last year. (Here is a look at the 30 best college majors for a successful career.) 

Click here to see states where the fewest people have gone to college.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

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