U.S. States with the Highest Levels of Education
As of 2019, 90% of the United States population over the age of 25 has a high school education, but only 34% of those graduates have earned a bachelor's degree. The extremely high cost of a college education is a problem no matter where you live, but negative factors preventing college certainly seem to have more impact in some areas. Depending on the state, the level of education can vary significantly.
Besides the number of educated people on a state-by-state basis, the quality of education also seems to vary. A recent WalletHub survey compared all 50 states according to education attained and quality of education. Here's what they found.
Two of the top internationally recognized institutions for higher education in the world — Harvard and MIT — are located in Massachusetts. The state is also widely known to have the best public school system in the country. Only 2% of high school students drop out in Massachusetts.
Maryland ranks just behind Massachusetts for the highest percentage of residents who have earned graduate-level or higher degrees, coming in at 12%. The state is home to several highly-ranked institutions of higher education, including Johns Hopkins, the U.S. Naval Academy and Towson.
Bernie Sanders' home state is also a leader in education. Vermont boasts a college savings plan to help parents start saving for college early. Their institutions of higher education also collaborate with the Vermont Higher Education Council to make sure students are getting what they need from the education system.
Connecticut is home to Yale University, but that's certainly not the only reason it ranks so highly on the list of most educated states. Its ranking is also a reflection of the availability of quality public education that is accessible to everyone. Connecticut governor Ned Lamont credits the state's educational success to outstanding teachers.
The beautiful state of Colorado is more than just a pretty place to hang out. It has the highest percentage of residents with an associate degree and the second-highest percentage of residents with a bachelor's degree. The state ranked high in terms of graduation rates, test scores and school quality.
With 172 institutions of higher learning, it's no wonder Virginia is considered one of the most educated states in the nation. It also happens to be home to the second oldest college in the country, The College of William and Mary. Virginia Tech, a nationally renowned school, is another of its many recognized schools.
Nearly 10% of all residents in New Hampshire have a master's degree. Among the many reasons New Hampshire ranks so highly in terms of education is its status as the home of one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the country: Dartmouth.
Minnesota has quite a few high-ranking higher education institutions that make it one of the smartest U.S. states. Schools like Carleton College, Macalester College and University of Minnesota attract students from all over the country.
Utah has more adults with an associate degree or college experience than all but one other state in the country. On top of that, 92% of Utah’s residents have a high school diploma or equivalent, and the state ranks at number 10 for education overall.
In 2019, Washington was given the amazing title of "best economy" in the nation. In that realm, the state has the highest number of STEM workers in the U.S. and also employs more high-tech workers than most states. Both Microsoft and Amazon call Washington home.
Home to Princeton and Rutgers — two Ivy League colleges established during colonial times — New Jersey has maintained its reputation for top-notch education since the 18th century. Nearly 37% of its adult population over the age of 25 holds a college degree, with almost 16% of them with an advanced degree.
You wouldn't be able to maintain the world's largest stock exchange without ranking as one of the most educated states in the U.S. New York is known for many things, and one of them is its highly qualified and highly educated population.
Oregon is the 13th most educated state in the U.S., with just shy of 13% of its residents holding a graduate degree or higher. This is still true, even though it ranks among the worst in the nation for its public school system. Just imagine what Oregon could achieve in terms of education if it improved in that area.
What smart person doesn't want to live in a tropical paradise? This could be the reason Hawaii is a state with some of the most highly-educated residents. More than 30% of its residents over age 25 have a college diploma, and that number is on the rise.
Illinois' Northwestern University is nationally recognized as one of the country's top private research universities. The state has 127 universities and colleges in total and is also home to two of the top ranked school districts in the country.
Delaware ranks as the seventh highest in the nation in terms of the quality of education available, and 31% of its adult residents over the age of 25 have a bachelor's degree. Considering that Delaware is one of the smallest U.S. states, these are very impressive accomplishments.
Maine has a lot more than just great lobster to offer. The state also has great K-12 schools. In fact, Maine ranked fifth in the country for most high school graduates in 2018, thanks to a superior school system. Just over 91% of adults in Maine have high school diplomas.
U.S. News & World Report ranked the top 500 high schools in the nation, and six of Montana's schools ranked with silver scores. More than 29% of Montana's adults have a four-year college education. Thanks to the beautiful natural landscape of the state, lots of jobs are available in the tourism industry, and this attracts educated people to reside in the area.
Just like its geographic location in the U.S., Kansas is somewhere near the middle in terms of being a highly educated state. Maybe all that farmland is encouraging people to stick with farming instead of going to college. That being said, more than 30% of its adult population has a bachelor's degree.
According to a 2018 study, Wisconsin's high school students scored top in the nation (tied with one other state) for highest median SAT score. This has remained true, despite large budget cuts for education in recent years. Wisconsin has always been known for top-notch public schools.
Rhode Island is home to one of the eight Ivy League schools in the country: Brown University. It also boasts one of the best art schools in the country, the Rhode Island School of Design. Between those two prestigious factors, you can expect to bump into some smart and talented people in Rhode Island, especially considering it’s the smallest state in the U.S.
About 90% of Nebraska's high school students graduate with a diploma or equivalent, which puts the state at 15th in the nation for this metric. However, 30% of Nebraska's adult residents have bachelor's degrees. Combined with a number of other factors, this puts them pretty close to the middle in terms of being a highly educated state.
Sixth in the nation for high school graduation rate as of 2018, North Dakota may have more to offer than meets the eye. The state also has more than 28% of adults with bachelor's degrees, which is a high number. So, why is it ranked near the middle in terms of highly educated states?
Wyoming's K-12 education ranks sixth in the entire country, according to research done in 2019. That's not too bad for a middle-of-nowhere state with such a low population. A ranking this high for this educational metric must have a reason behind it.
It’s shocking to most people that California has the most residents age 25 or older who never got past ninth grade. The state also ranks last out of all 50 states for its percentage of high school graduates. You would think those two terrible statistics would land them much lower than the middle of the pack of highly intelligent states, but that isn’t the case.
Many students in Iowa graduate from high school, and the state ranks ninth in the nation in that category. Almost 28% of those students go on to graduate with four-year college degrees. After that, the numbers fall off, and only 9% of Iowa's adult residents go on to earn advanced degrees.
Alaska ranks close to the top nationally on how much it spends on its K-12 students, and it shows in their high school graduation rate, which is fifth in the country. Alaska's percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree isn’t too shabby either at 29%.
For the third year in a row, Florida has ranked number one as the top state in the nation for higher education. Aside from having a number of excellent colleges and universities, those institutions also focus on being affordable and accessible to as many students as possible from Florida and around the country.
Although the University of Pennsylvania is an Ivy League school, and the state also has several other quality institutions of higher education, including Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania ranks in the lower half of highly educated states. The lower percentage of high school graduates and advanced degree holders likely has something to do with that.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, ranked as the number one most educated city in America in 2019 by WalletHub, the same research site that ranked the state as a whole at number 30 for most educated. There are a few reasons: Ann Arbor's metro area is the city with the most advanced degree holders, and it’s the third best for university quality and the fifth best for overall education quality.