Special Report

States Where the Most People Have Gone to College

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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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20. Hawaii
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 35.3%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 92.9% (13th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $55,171 (23rd lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $44,841 (22nd highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.7% (12th highest — tied)

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19. Kansas
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 35.4%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.9% (18th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $55,916 (25th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $44,350 (25th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.2% (4th lowest)

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18. Delaware
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 35.6%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.4% (24th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $61,378 (14th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $47,422 (15th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.3% (19th highest)

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17. Maine
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 36.0%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 94.5% (2nd highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $51,486 (13th lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $44,074 (24th lowest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 4.6% (23rd lowest — tied)

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16. California
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 36.2%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 84.4% (the lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $71,142 (5th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $50,014 (13th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 7.3% (the highest)

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15. Oregon
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 36.3%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.9% (20th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $57,419 (23rd highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $45,562 (21st highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.2% (20th highest — tied)

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14. Rhode Island
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 36.5%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 89.1% (15th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $62,069 (13th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $50,500 (12th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.6% (15th highest — tied)

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13. Utah
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 36.8%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 93.2% (11th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $56,175 (24th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $46,555 (17th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 2.7% (2nd lowest)

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12. Illinois
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 37.1%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 90.2% (20th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $63,725 (11th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $48,354 (14th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 6.1% (9th highest)

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11. Minnesota
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 38.9%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 94.1% (5th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $63,482 (12th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $50,872 (9th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.4% (5th lowest — tied)

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10. Washington
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 39.0%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 92.3% (15th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $72,286 (the highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $53,232 (4th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.2% (20th highest — tied)

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9. New York
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 39.9%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 88.0% (9th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $64,928 (8th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $50,570 (10th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 6.9% (3rd highest)

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8. New Hampshire
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 40.2%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 94.4% (3rd highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $64,230 (9th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $51,953 (6th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.5% (9th lowest)

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7. Virginia
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 41.8%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.4% (23rd highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $65,495 (7th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $51,330 (8th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.9% (15th lowest — tied)

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6. Connecticut
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 42.1%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.1% (25th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $69,915 (6th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $53,008 (5th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 6.3% (6th highest — tied)

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5. Maryland
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 42.5%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.1% (23rd lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $71,896 (2nd highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $56,979 (2nd highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.8% (11th highest)

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4. New Jersey
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 43.1%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.0% (22nd lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $71,258 (4th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $56,121 (3rd highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 6.3% (6th highest — tied)

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3. Colorado
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 44.4%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 92.4% (14th highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $63,777 (10th highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $51,409 (7th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.4% (18th highest)

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2. Vermont
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 44.4%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 94.5% (the highest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $49,075 (2nd lowest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $45,731 (20th highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 3.4% (5th lowest — tied)

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1. Massachusetts
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 46.6%
> Adults with a high school diploma or higher: 91.1% (24th lowest)
> Median earnings among bachelor’s degree holders: $71,344 (3rd highest)
> Median earnings, all adults: $59,269 (the highest)
> 2021 unemployment rate: 5.7% (12th highest — tied)

Methodology

To identify the most 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 above 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. 

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