For a growing number of Americans, a good education is the ticket to a better future. College opens doors to more career opportunities, higher earnings and new social connections, among other benefits. But how much schooling one receives also matters to some extent. Generally, the higher the level of education one completes, the higher their income potential and the lower their chances of unemployment become.
In this study, WalletHub examined the key factors of a well-educated population: educational attainment, school quality and achievement gaps between genders and races. We compared all 50 states across 18 total metrics grouped into two categories. The data set ranges from share of adults aged 25 years and older with at least a high school diploma to average university quality to gender gap in educational attainment.
Read on for our findings, commentary from a panel of experts and a full description of our methodology. A separate WalletHub analysis identifies the Most & Least Educated Cities.
Most Educated States
‘Educational Attainment’ Rank
‘Quality of Education’ Rank
For insight into other topics in higher education, we turned to a panel of experts in various fields. Click on the panelists’ profiles below to read their bios and thoughts on the following key questions:
- What is the impact of K-12 school quality on rates of high school completion and later college attendance and completion?
- What are the most effective ways to combat “brain drain” across state borders?
- Are highly educated states better able to withstand economic shocks?
- To what extent should states consider education policy as part of a broader economic development strategy?
- Will the reductions in public funding for higher education make states less competitive in the long run?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the most and least educated states in America, WalletHub compared the 50 states across two key dimensions, Educational Attainment and Quality of Education.
We examined those dimensions using 18 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the “most educated.” In certain metrics where women showed an advantage over men and blacks over whites, we gave equal credit to the states with no gender/racial inequality. These metrics were marked accordingly with an asterisk (*).
We then determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Educational Attainment - Total Points: 60
- Share of Adults Aged 25 Years and Older with at Least a High School Diploma: Full Weight (~15.00 Points)
- Share of Adults Aged 25 Years and Older with at Least Some College Experience or an Associate's Degree: Full Weight (~15.00 Points)
- Share of Adults Aged 25 Years and Older with at Least a Bachelor's Degree: Full Weight (~15.00 Points)
- Share of Adults Aged 25 Years and Older with at Least a Graduate or Professional Degree: Full Weight (~15.00 Points)
Quality of Education & Attainment Gap - Total Points: 40
- Quality of School System: Double Weight (~5.16 Points)
Note: This metric is based on U.S. News & World Report ’s school systems rating.
- Blue Ribbon Schools per Capita: Full Weight (~2.58 Points)
Note: This metric refers to schools recognized by the Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools Program for academic excellence or improvement in closing achievement gaps.
- Average Quality of Universities: Double Weight (~5.16 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “2020 Best Colleges & Universities Ranking”.
- Enrolled Students in Top Universities per Capita: Full Weight (~2.58 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “2020 College & University Rankings” ranking of America’s top 1,003 universities.
- Public High School Graduation Rate: Double Weight (~5.16 Points)
Note: This metric measures the graduation rate for students who attended high school for four years.
- Projected High School Graduation Rate Change between 2018-2019 and 2031-2032: Full Weight (~2.58 Points)
- NAEP Math & Reading Test Scores: Full Weight (~2.58 Points)
- Share of 2018 High School Class Scoring “3” or Higher on Advanced Placement Exams: Full Weight (~2.58 Points)
Note: This metric shows the degree to which students are participating in AP Exams and are achieving scores that qualify them for college credit at most U.S. public colleges and universities.
- School Engagement of Students: Full Weight (~2.58 Points)
- States with Summer Learning Legislation: Half Weight (~1.29 Points)
Note: This metric measures whether a summer learning legislation was passed or introduced in the state.
- States with Voucher Programs: Half Weight (~1.29 Points)
Note: This binary metric measures the presence or absence of voucher programs in the state. School voucher programs are a type of school choice. These state-funded programs – often called scholarship programs – allow students to use public monies to attend a private school. The state provides a set amount of money, typically based on the state’s per-pupil amount, for private school tuition.
- Presence of Free Community College Education: Half Weight (~1.29 Points)
Note: This metric measures the presence or absence of free community college education in a state.
- Racial Gap in Educational Attainment*: Full Weight (~2.58 Points)
Note: This metric specifically measures the difference between the share of black bachelor’s degree holders and the share of their white counterparts.
- Gender Gap in Educational Attainment*: Full Weight (~2.58 Points)
Note: This metric specifically measures the difference between the share of female bachelor’s degree holders and the share of their male counterparts.
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Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. News & World Report, Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health, National Summer Learning Association, The Campaign for Free College Tuition, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, U.S. Department of Education, The College Board and WalletHub research.