1. Massachusetts

Harvard
Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 48%

Indisputably, Massachusetts is at the very top of the class.

The Bay State ranks first for both educational attainment and quality of education and also has the second-highest average university quality.

On top of that, Massachusetts has both the highest percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees (but no graduate degree) and the highest percentage with graduate degrees in the country.

The literacy rates in Massachusetts were higher than average, and it starts early — according to The Nation’s Report Card, published by the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of fourth grade students who performed at a “proficient level” was 45%.

But they rank in the middle, in terms of SAT scores.

The SAT, which is an aptitude test, scores mathematics, critical reading skills and writing. It weighs the math section on its own and the reading and writing sections together, awarding between 200 and 800 points each. This means a student’s total possible score would be 1600.

The average SAT score for a Massachusetts high school student is 1184.

The state is home to Harvard, the top-ranked school in the U.S. according to Forbes, as well as MIT, the fourth-highest rated school.

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2. Maryland

Maryland - Johns Hopkins University
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 42%

Claiming the No. 2 spot overall, Maryland ranks second for quality of education and third for educational attainment.

Maryland has the second-highest share of residents with a graduate degree in the country, and the third-highest share of residents with a bachelor’s degree (but not a graduate degree).

The Free State is home to Johns Hopkins University and the United States Naval Academy, both of which rank among the top 25 schools in the U.S.

Maryland, one of the U.S.’s 13 original colonies, prides itself on its education system, with its first public school coming into existence in 1798, according to the state’s department of education.

Its K-12 public school system is ranked the fourth best in the nation, and Newsweek reports that the state is home to 15 of the 500 best STEM schools in the nation.

About 88.8% of adult residents of Maryland have fluent literacy skills.

3. Colorado

Colorado - United States Air Force Academy
Laura Gangi Pond / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 43%

Coloradans are clearly eager to learn: In terms of educational attainment, the state ranks second only to Massachusetts. It has the second-highest share of residents with a bachelor’s degree (but no graduate degree) in the country.

Three of Colorado’s colleges made the top 100 on Forbes’ list, with the United States Air Force Academy ranking the highest at No. 43.

They do fairly well in the post-graduate category as well, with about 7.8% of residents completing a master’s degree.

According to the WalletHub methodology, they rank 49th out of 50 states, ahead of only South Dakota, in terms of the lowest average university quality.

Colorado’s high school students score average in the SATs, with the mean average result in science, for both male and female students, at 26 out of a possible 40.

The 2022 strategy for the state’s department of education includes a renewed focus on literacy for elementary school students, and more options in high school to better prepare them for college and university.

However, the quality of its education isn’t so hot — the Centennial State doesn’t even crack the top 20.

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4. Vermont

Vermont - Middlebury College
Middlebury College

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 40%

Vermont ranks fifth for educational attainment and eighth for quality of education.

The Green Mountain State makes sure the basics are covered. It’s tied with Alaska for the fifth-highest share of residents with high school diplomas in the country.

That thirst for knowledge seems to be paying off. In 2019, Vermont’s average unemployment rate was just 2.4% — the lowest in the country, alongside North Dakota.

Not bad for a state which is only 9,616 square miles.

Perhaps an answer lies in their holistic approach. Vermont’s education strategy is comprehensive, with their department of education having mandates for school atmosphere, student healthcare, adult and continuing education, quality assessment, and support.

In order to protect their education gains, Vermont created the Advisory Council on Literacy through Act 28 of 2021, which lays out a curriculum for reading comprehension from pre-K through to third grade.

The top-ranked school in the state is Middlebury College, which came in at No. 37 on Forbes’ list.

5. Connecticut

Connecticut - Yale University
f11photo / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 42%

Connecticut squeaks into the top five most educated states on the list, ranking fourth best for educational attainment but only ninth best for quality of education.

The Nutmeg State is home to Yale University — which Forbes’ ranked as America’s third-best school overall — and also has some of the largest shares of bachelor’s and graduate degree holders in the country.

Unfortunately, the state’s residents also carry some of the highest student debts, at an average of $38,546.

The Connecticut Mirror reported that while Connecticut outspends the national average by $5,000 per pupil annually, there is substantial inequity in how the public schools receive their funding.

According to data compiled from the U.S. Census, the state ranks fifth in terms of educational disparity.

They also have a lack of diversity in their teachers — their department of education states that out of 53,220 full-time educators, only 10.6% are certified minorities.

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6. Virginia

Virginia - University of Virginia
University of Virginia

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 42%

The Mother of Presidents and the Mother of States has also birthed an impressive number of graduates.

The Old Dominion’s scores for educational attainment and quality of education are both among the top 10 in the country. It also has the fourth-highest percentage of residents who hold a graduate degree.

Virginia’s three top-ranked schools — the University of Virginia, Washington and Lee, and the College of William & Mary — all made the top 50 on Forbes’ list.

In 2021, 38,927 Virginia seniors took the SAT test, and 63% met or exceeded SAT and college planning company College Board’s college-readiness benchmarks in both reading and writing, and mathematics. State scores in both categories exceeded the national average.

The state prides itself on being on the frontline of technology when it comes to administering skills-evaluation tests to its elementary and high school-aged students. Their regularly administered learning standards tests, along with the option of assistive technology, help each student achieve proficiency in basic subjects like English, math, science and other subjects.

7. Washington

Washington - University of Washington, Seattle
cpaulfell / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 38%

You won’t find much red ink staining the Evergreen State. It earns high marks on both key tests.

Washington is the ninth-best state for educational attainment and the 10th best for quality of education. Its top-rated schools are the University of Washington - Seattle and Whitman College, which Forbes rated as the 64th and 89th best in the country, respectively.

Despite these rankings, Washington’s average unemployment rate in 2019 was quite high at 4.3%, tied with Kentucky as the seventh highest in the country.

The Washington Office of Financial Management has said that the reason for Washington’s high unemployment rate can be linked to the high number of resource-based economies in the state, which naturally have cyclical employment patterns.

The Washington State Board of Education wants to engage students from the pre-K to grade 12 levels in personalized education pathways that help them to succeed in their chosen career, and has committed to using equity as a guiding principle for their board decisions.

In 2018, they implemented an equity lens to help educators identify marginalized students potentially in need of help, and support them breaking down systemic, academic barriers.

8. New Hampshire

New Hampshire - Dartmouth College
Bo Shen / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 38%

When it comes to diplomas and degrees, the Granite State rocks.

Only 6% of its adults haven’t made it through high school, helping New Hampshire become the sixth-best state for overall educational attainment.

However, New Hampshire’s score for quality of education was lower than any of the other schools in the top 10 on this list. WalletHub rated it as the 27th best.

On top of that, New Hampshire had the highest average student loan debt in the country at $39,410, as well as the highest percentage of postsecondary graduates in debt — a staggering 74%.

The Concord Monitor published an article in the spring of 2021, reporting on how state universities had opted to freeze in-state tuition costs for the third year in a row.

They mentioned that part of the reason why New Hampshire students are so in debt is because a portion of the loans are issued by private firms, which lack the oversight of federal loans.

The pandemic helped things spiral so much that in November of 2021, the fiscal commission of New Hampshire’s court asked the governor’s emergency relief office for a loan of $17 million to help alleviate debt and retain the state’s workforce.

9. New Jersey

New Jersey - Princeton
ssguy / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 44%

Young minds are blooming in the Garden State.

New Jersey ranks as fifth best for quality of education and 10th best for educational attainment.

The state is positively packed full of postsecondary graduates: It’s tied with Connecticut for the fourth highest share of residents with a bachelor’s degree.

New Jersey is home to Princeton, an Ivy League school that Forbes has ranked as the country’s fifth best.

In 2019, New Jersey’s average unemployment rate was slightly lower than the national average, at 3.6%.

In fact, between 2016 and 2020, the percentage of New Jerseyians 25 years or older with a bachelor degree, or higher, was 40%.

The average New Jersey SAT score increased in the 2021-22 academic year, to 1117 out of a possible 1600, which is up from 1072 from 2020, and 1082 in 2019 — although as more universities loosen their requirements on SAT scores, less students are taking the test.

10. Minnesota

Minnesota - Carleton College
Carleton College

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 40%

Rounding out the top 10 on our list is the North Star State, which deserves to shine as a guiding light to other areas of the country.

Minnesota is the eighth best in the country for educational attainment, though only the 18th best for quality of education.

And to its detriment, the Land of 10,000 Lakes is also the land of tens of thousands in student loan debt. About two thirds of graduates in the state are in debt, and they’re currently shouldering an average burden of $31,856 — the third-largest share in the U.S.

To get an idea of how that affects the average Minnesotan student, in 2020, 55% of all graduates of a master’s program carried some type of student debt; and 65% of those who graduated with a bachelor’s degree carried debt.

But fewer jobs, and an unstable economy, which may affect a student’s decision to take out a student loan, does not affect their academic performance.

Minnesota students are well-prepared for post-secondary school, if their SAT scores can be considered representative. A total of 38% of students who took the test in 2018 scored between 1200-1390 out of a possible 1600; which works out to a mean score of 1298.

11. Utah

Utah - BYU
Stock Footage Inc / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35%

Utah comes in at No. 11 overall and coincidentally also ranks 11th for both educational attainment and quality of education in WalletHub’s findings.

While you might find better schooling elsewhere, it seems you won’t find it nearly as cheap.

The Beehive State has the lowest average student debt of any state at just $17,935, and only 40% of Utah’s graduates were in debt, which is the lowest share in the country.

The top-rated school in Utah is Brigham-Young University, which came in at No. 95 on Forbes’ list.

A 2018 article by the Salt Lake City Tribune reported that its university enrollment had increased over the past few years, which was credited in part to Utah’s lower tuition costs, and part on state universities’ open admission policy, which means they don’t base acceptance on SAT or ACT scores.

While most Utah universities have increased their fees incrementally over the past few years, their cost of attendance is still much less than other universities across the nation.

Utah’s high school graduation rate for the 2020 cohort was 88.1%, according to the state’s department of education.

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12. Illinois

Illinois - University of Chicago
Vladislav Gajic / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 39%

Sure enough, the Land of Lincoln is also the land of learnin’.

Illinois has respectable ratings for educational attainment and quality of education, coming in at No. 17 in both categories.

Plus, two of Illinois’ top-rated schools, the University of Chicago and Northwestern, both made the top 20 on Forbes’ top colleges list.

Unfortunately, some graduates in the state may find it difficult to lock down a job. In 2019, the average unemployment rate in Illinois was well above the national average, at 4.0%.

In 2019-20, 57% of Illinois college graduates carried some sort of student loan debt, according to the Institute of College Access and Success and their average debt load was just under $29,000.

22% of those graduates had private, or non-federal loans, which carry less protection.

Data journalism site Stacker published a study on state tuition and found that the student debt per capita in Illinois had risen a whopping 426.1% since 2003.

13. New York

New York - Cornell University
Lewis Liu / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 40%

The Empire State doesn’t seem that impressive at first, ranking 18th in educational attainment and 16th in quality of education.

Yet New York is the only state that’s home to two Ivy League colleges, Columbia and Cornell, and all five of its top-rated schools made the top 50 on Forbes’ list.

Those impressive institutions help New York rank fifth best for average university quality. It also has the fifth highest share of graduate degree holders in the country.

Tuition at one of the schools in the state university system of New York — SUNY — will cost $23,350 per year before other expenses, if you are an in-state resident who commutes. An additional cost of $3,750, for books, transportation, and personal expenses should be factored in.

The state school system, which offers over 7,000 degree programs, helps to make higher education attainable for all residents. An in-state resident, commuting to classes for a bachelor’s degree, should budget around $18,000 per year for tuition and related expenses.

14. Oregon

Oregon - Reed College
Reed College

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35%

Although the busy beavers of the Beaver State dutifully seek out higher education, when it comes to quality Oregon leaves something to be desired. It’s ranked 10th worst in the country.

None of Oregon’s highest-rated schools cracked the top 100 on Forbes’ list, although Reed College in Portland came the closest at No. 105.

The average statewide unemployment rate in 2019 was exactly the same as the national average, 3.7% of the total workforce.

According to the most recent data, in 2019, Oregon universities graduated 6,039 students with bachelor’s degrees, and 1,795 people with master’s degrees.

The number of students enrolled in public universities in Oregon has stayed basically consistent between 2020-2021, with the number of students enrolled full time decreasing slightly between 2019 and 2021.

The Oregon Employment Department published a report in 2021 that said there had been significant job recovery in the state, but with some stipulations.

There were 97,000 job openings at any given time in 2021, after a record decline of 22% in 2020, but employers also mentioned that many more positions stayed vacant for over 60 days, which can be partly explained by the competitive hiring environment after lockdowns eased.

15. Hawaii

Hawaii - University of Hawaii, Manoa
University of Hawaii

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34%

The Aloha State has solid stats for educational attainment, although the standard of its education isn’t anything to hula about.

The average quality of Hawaii’s universities is the fourth-lowest in the country. The only school to make Forbes’ list was the University of Hawaii - Manoa, way down at No. 385.

On the bright side, Hawaii has a low percentage of graduates who are still shouldering debt, 43%, which is the second lowest in the U.S.

The Hawaii Department of Education states that it educates 180,000 students attending 293 schools, on an operating budget of $2.1 billion. 13% of their funds comes from the federal government.

Over one third of students are considered economically disadvantaged.

Underneath those numbers is the reality that Hawaii’s economy is highly reliant on its visitors and their tourism dollars. In 2019, they had 132,640 small businesses spread across the five islands.

Hawaii, as a non-contiguous U.S. state, has a different perspective and educational mandate than the others. With its high number of small businesses which employ over 50% of residents, there is more of a pipeline directing students towards revenue-generating business, rather than what could be termed “traditional education”.

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16. Wyoming

Wyoming - University of Wyoming
University of Wyoming

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 28%

Although Wyoming is tied with Indiana for the 10th-lowest share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, it’s no haven for dropouts.

Wyoming is also tied with a couple other states for the smallest share of adults without a high school diploma.

Overall educational attainment in the Equality State is higher than the median, and the quality of education in Wyoming is quite good.

Plus, Wyoming has a comparatively low average student debt at $23,444 and has one of the lowest shares of graduates still shouldering debt at 46%.

Wyoming has an economy rooted in agriculture and mining, with ranching being particularly important.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has calculated that Wyoming is the second-biggest state producer of wool and lambs. In recent years, their tourism industry has also grown, as more people visit their national parks.

In a study commissioned in the 2010s, Wyoming’s department of education found that almost 60% of Wyoming residents did not enroll in post-secondary education, in favor of the workforce — another study found that high school graduates who chose the workforce over enrolling in a post-secondary institution made higher wages than if they continued on in school.

17. Delaware

University of Delaware
Cargoudel / Wikimedia Commons
The University of Delaware

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34%

The Diamond State is fairly mediocre when it comes to educational attainment but shines in its quality of education. WalletHub ranks it as the 12th best in the country.

However, Delaware only has one school on Forbes’ 2019 top colleges list: the University of Delaware, which came in at No. 147.

Delaware also has the fifth-highest average student debt in the U.S. at $37,447, and in 2019 the statewide unemployment rate was above the national average, at 3.8%.

However, Delaware’s youngest students are struggling; The Seattle Times reported that the number of third graders reading proficiently had slipped by three percentage points between 2015-2019.

The proficiency one has in the fundamentals at that age is a good indicator of learning challenges that might occur as one gets older, so it is a priority to improve those results.

And, in response, the Delaware Department of Education poured some of their pandemic relief funding into “high acceleration tutoring” to help those at-risk students improve their fluency. It has committed to funding the acceleration programs through the 2022 school year, to eliminate the learning lags caused by COVID-19 and help students achieve long-term success.

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18. Maine

Maine - Bowdoin College
Bowdoin College

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34%

The Pine Tree State gets a fair grade for its number of degrees and diplomas, but when it comes to quality, Mainers are pining for better.

That said, its top schools are among the best nationwide. Maine’s three highest-ranked colleges — Bowdoin, Bates and Colby — all made the top 100 on Forbes’ list.

Studying here can be pricey, though, and the state is tied with West Virginia for the third-highest share of graduates carrying student loan debt, at 67%.

As the first state to introduce the SAT scores as a requirement for post-secondary admission, it is also one of the first to request their termination. Those who want to discontinue the use of the SAT as an entrance metric cite that it is a poor indicator of college mastery. Opponents to terminating the practice say that it encourages more students to go to post-secondary.

The most recent census data suggests that only 32.5% of Maine’s adult population have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

19. Montana

Montana - Carroll College
Carroll College

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35%

According to WalletHub’s findings, Big Sky Country is not so big on quality.

Montana ranks as the 11th worst in the country for the standard of its education, and the average quality of its universities is the absolute worst of any state in the union. The Treasure State’s highest-rated institutions barely cracked the top 400 on Forbes’ list.

However, in terms of educational attainment, Montana fares quite well, and it’s tied for the lowest share of high school dropouts in the U.S.

Montana has a university system, known by its acronym MUS, which purports to help students find their place within a network of 16 public universities and colleges, and 40,000 students.

The Montana legislature asked for an increase in general education funding over the fiscal years of 2022 and 2023, as well as extra to pad the student aid allotment.

Montana’s public universities, which receive only 10% of their funding from the state, could use it.

20. North Dakota

North Dakota - North Dakota State University
North Dakota State University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32%

North Dakota has decent ratings for both attainment and quality, but it seems like its highest-achieving students don’t stick around. It has the lowest percentage of graduate degree holders in the country.

Neither of North Dakota’s two schools that made Forbes’ top colleges list cracked the top 350.

However, that doesn’t mean North Dakotans are struggling to find work. The state was tied with Vermont for the lowest unemployment in the U.S. at just 2.4% of the total workforce in 2019.

The state government website states that North Dakota’s largest and strongest industry is its agriculture. In terms of generated revenue, its top crops are wheat, cattle and calves, soybeans, corn for grain, and sugar beets.

It also has a strong manufacturing and mining sector.

Though its industries are one of the reasons behind its low percentage of post-secondary graduates, it is also trying to reinvent its strategy by dedicating 40% of its state funding to education initiatives, and has recently reformed its licensing requirements for drastically-needed teachers.

21. Wisconsin

Wisconsin - University of Wisconsin - Madison
University of Wisconsin - Madison

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34%

The Badger State is burrowed deep in the rankings for educational attainment, but its schools certainly earn their stripes.

WalletHub says it has the 13th-best overall quality of education, and the average quality of its universities comes in at No. 4.

The top-rated school in America’s Dairyland is the University of Wisconsin - Madison, which was ranked 69th in the country on Forbes’ top colleges list. The job prospects for graduates in Wisconsin are also encouraging. In 2019, the average unemployment rate was below the national average, at 3.3%.

In 2021, UW-Madison granted over 3,100 graduate degrees — 2,406 master’s degrees and 729 PhDs – and it committed to various transparency practices to show how Wisconsin residents who pursue a graduate degree improve their earning potential.

UW-Madison has a median degree time of 1.8 years for a master’s and 5.8 for a PhD.

22. Rhode Island

Rhode Island - Brown University
Brown University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 37%

Although Rhode Island is home to Brown University, an Ivy League school that’s ranked seventh-best in the country, the state’s overall attainment and quality are merely average.

None of the other colleges in the Ocean State cracked the top 100 on Forbes’ top colleges list, with the Rhode Island School of Design coming in second at No. 112.

Little Rhody is notable for the gargantuan size of its residents’ student debt, which is the nation’s fourth highest at an average of $37,614.

A partial reason for Rhode Island’s astronomical rates of student debt is that 42% of students had private, unsecured loans, which have less oversight than federal loans, and carry less protection.

In an attempt to help those millennial and Gen Z students who exit college with thousands of dollars in student loans, in January 2022, Attorney General Peter Neronha announced a $4.6 million settlement with private loan company Navient, as part of a billion-dollar national repayment program.

That will help 226 Rhode Islanders with their debt. You have to start somewhere.

23. Nebraska

Nebraska - Creighton University
Creighton University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 36%

Nebraska looks pretty good on the outside, with a better-than-average share of diplomas and degrees. It also had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country in 2019, at just 3.0%.

But once you peel back the surface, you’ll find the Cornhusker State is 38th when it comes to the quality of its education.

Nebraska’s top-rated school, Creighton University, came in at 194 on Forbes’ top colleges list, and only two of the state’s other colleges cracked the top 500.

In an attempt to remediate Nebraska’s reputation for inferior post-secondary education, in the spring of 2020, the president of the University of Nebraska unveiled a plan to offer free tuition to all Nebraska residents whose families made less than $60,000 a year.

Calling the program the “Nebraska Promise”, President Jimmy Carter said the initiative had also garnered the support of state politicians.

US News has previously skewered the University of Nebraska on its value and teacher retention, reporting that the starting salary for faculty at the public university started at just under $50,000.

24. Kansas

Kansas - University of Kansas
University of Kansas

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35%

Although the Sunflower State stands tall at No. 13 for educational attainment, the quality of its book learning is relatively low — the third-worst in the country.

The top-rated school in the state is the University of Kansas, which ranked at No. 260 on Forbes’ list.

Fortunately, the seeds of knowledge planted in Kansas’ so-so schools seem decent enough for graduates to find work. In 2019, the average statewide unemployment rate was well below the national average, at 3.2%.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture says there are over 45 million acres of farmland, which accounts for 87.5% of the state’s total land. Agriculture accounts for 12% of the entire workforce.

Digging to the root of Kansas’ education woes, EducationData says that the state places 24th in terms of pre K to grade 12, and 26th in terms of funding. The public school system receives most of its funding from the state.

According to the 2021 U.S. Census, only 33.9% of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

25. California

California - Stanford University
Stanford University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 36%

The Golden State gets a gold star for quality of education. It’s the third best in the country overall and also has the highest average university quality of all 50 states.

The five highest-ranked schools in California all made the top 25 on Forbes’ list.

However, when it comes to the number of people accessing that stellar education, California comes up short. It has the highest share of adults without a high school diploma in the country at 15%.

While, according to CNN, dropout rates were improving nationwide pre- pandemic, they began to rise again during the challenges of lockdowns and virtual schooling.

Drop-out rates can be linked to racial inequality and access, with Black Americans being the least likely to graduate, says Californian education information site, EdSource.

The National Center for Education Statistics says that the average cost of tuition to attend one of the state’s public universities was $8,192 during the 2019-20 academic year.

But California consistently also has one of the highest costs of living in the U.S., with expenses like housing, utilities and the price of groceries driving the price up.

26. Alaska

Alaska - University of Alaska - Fairbanks
University of Alaska - Fairbanks

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 30%

Alaskans bring home plenty of diplomas and degrees, but employers might give them the cold shoulder. The quality of the state’s education is the fifth lowest in the country.

Of the two schools in the state that made Forbes’ top colleges list, the one with the highest ranking — University of Alaska - Fairbanks — came in at No. 574.

Alaska also had the highest average unemployment rate in 2019, at 6.1% of the state’s total workforce.

However, as their state government website points out, their unemployment numbers are so high because of their seasonal economy.

Alaska is dependent on its reserves of oil and coal, its mining, and its fisheries.

Since the middle of the 20th century, it also has had a surge in tourism activities, according to encyclopedia Britannica; a lot of its revenue also comes from service.

All of these shut down during the winter.

With Alaska being the least densely populated of the 50 states according to the census, it makes sense that the residents who do live there year-round are concerned with things other than higher education.

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27. Florida

Florida - University of Florida
University of Florida

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 31%

Although the number of graduates in the Sunshine State is nothing to beam about, those that do attend have a bright future.

The overall quality of education in Florida is fourth best in the country.

Narrow your view to the state’s universities, and things look even better: They’re the third best in the U.S.

Its two top-rated schools, the University of Florida and the University of Miami, both made the top 100 on Forbes’ list, as well. According to the Florida Department of Education, in 2020, their high school graduation rate increased by over three percentage points, which continues the upward trend over the last few decades.

It increased incrementally in 2021 as well.

Post university, Florida is rated 10th overall in the country by U.S. News and World Reports, achieving an annual GDP of over a billion dollars.

Their tourism industry pays a large portion of their state sales tax, which makes the state one of the only not to levy a personal income tax on their residents, which makes it perennially attractive for people to establish themselves there longterm.

28. Michigan

Michigan - University of Michigan
University of Michigan

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32%

You aren’t guaranteed a great education in the Great Lake State. It ranks 35 out of 50 for overall quality.

However, a respectable number of residents do finish high school and pick up a degree.

Although Michigan’s highest-rated school, the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, was ranked No. 20 on Forbes’ list, no other schools in the state cracked the top 150.

And job prospects for graduates in Michigan aren’t so hot. In 2019, the average unemployment rate was higher than the national average, at 4.1%.

However, Michigan’s state superintendent of schools has been trying to find solutions for the educational gap.

The Michigan Department of Education was successful in receiving an increase in per-pupil spending from $450 to $9,150, and is looking for more room in the budget to address other areas of concern, such as teacher recruitment, post-pandemic mental health care services, and more.

29. Iowa

Iowa - Grinnell College
Grinnell College

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32%

In both achievement and quality, Iowa ranks slightly below the halfway mark nationwide.

Its top-rated school, Grinnell College, came in at No. 80 on Forbes’ list, while the next highest entry, the University of Iowa, ranked 160th.

But if you take a close look, you’ll notice the Hawkeye State isn’t hurting for jobs.

Iowa had an average unemployment rate of just 2.7% back in 2019.

That was the fourth-lowest rate in the country, tied with Hawaii.

According to the Iowa Department of Economic Development, its strongest industry is in advanced manufacturing. It does a lot to fund economic health, from grants to help employers re-train their employees, to distributing financial aid.

But the state wants to improve its relationship with their students. This year, the required SAT or ACT scores were waived by the University of Iowa.

All students entering their first year in the fall of 2022 without those scores will be considered for merit scholarships.

30. Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania - University of Pennsylvania
f11photo / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 35%

You can still get a solid education in Pennsylvania, which ranks slightly below the median for attainment and slightly above for quality.

Eight of the Keystone State’s highest-ranked schools made the top 100 on Forbes’ list, including the University of Pennsylvania, which came in at No. 6.

Unfortunately, you’re not guaranteed to unlock a great job that will pay the bills. Pennsylvania has the second-highest average student debt in the county at $39,027, and the average unemployment rate in 2019 was quite high.

In a study published by The Institute for College Access and Success — TICAS — among the ten most populous states, Pennsylvania had the highest share of private loan borrowing, with over 22% of students having some kind of private loan to contend with after graduation.

On top of that, students at public colleges in Pennsylvania received fewer grants per capita when compared with their peers nationwide, but also face tuition costs up to 50% higher than other states, with a 20% higher total cost of attendance.

31. North Carolina

North Carolina - Duke University
Duke University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34%

The Tar Heel State doesn’t have an easy pitch. Its quality of education falls just below the median, while it ranks 32nd for educational attainment.

That said, there’s still a few good reasons to study there.

North Carolina’s three highest-rated schools all made the top 50 on Forbes’ list. The state’s top-ranked school, Duke University, even made the top 10.

On top of that, its average student debt is fairly low, as is the share of graduates still shouldering debt.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently published a 2020 report on Carolina Demographics.

It discussed the state’s educational attainment goal of having two million North Carolinians between the ages of 25 and 44 having a post-secondary certification by 2030.

They were unable to collect 2020 data due to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the research team is focusing on metrics like chronic absenteeism, high school graduation, completed federal student aid applications, and post-secondary enrollment rate so that they can step in to offer support to students, and help them attain that goal.

32. Missouri

Missouri - Washington University in St. Louis
Washington University in St. Louis

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32%

The Show Me State doesn’t have much to show off; it’s ranked in the bottom 20 for both attainment and quality.

Missouri’s highest-rated school, Washington University in St. Louis, came in at No. 31 on Forbes’ list, but it was the only college in the state to crack the top 150.

Regardless, Missourians are having little trouble finding jobs. The unemployment rate in 2019 was lower than the national average, at 3.3% of the state’s total workforce.

The 2020 Missouri Equity Report, commissioned by the state’s department of higher education and workforce development, found that the percentage of “credentialed” graduates had increased 28% between 2009 and 2018.

There were also sharp completion gaps between low-income students and their higher-income peers, as well as education disparities between white Missourians and students of color.

As part of its findings, it committed to founding the “Missouri Equitable Access, Success and Engagement Framework”, which would work with different local communities in order to identify and close those gaps.

33. Ohio

Ohio - Kenyon College
Kenyon College

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 31%

Ohio is at the middle of the pack when it comes to the quality of its education.

However, residents of the Buckeye State aren’t snapping up degrees in great numbers, even though the three highest-rated schools in Ohio all fared reasonably well on Forbes’ list.

The average student loan debt in Ohio is under $30,000, but the share of graduates who still have debt is fairly high at 60%.

The state’s unemployment rate in 2019 was also significantly higher than the national average.

Ohio has been working on its low enrollment problem since 2017, when its department of higher education was charged by the general assembly to study attainment goals over the next four years.

The 2021 attainment report stated that Ohio’s degree attainment had seen an increase of 6.1% over a 10 year period, with 40.8% of residents having completed a bachelor’s degree in 2019.

It has also implemented several success strategies in high schools to make completing a college credential much easier, including a College Credit Plus program and second chance grants.

34. Georgia

Georgia - Emory University
Emory University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34%

The Peach State can offer a decent education, but its attainment score isn’t exactly peachy. It falls far below WalletHub’s median ranking.

Those who choose to pursue higher education have plenty of strong options.

The three highest-rated colleges in Georgia all made the top 100 on Forbes’ list, with Emory University taking the state’s top spot at No. 55, and the Georgia Institute of Technology coming in second at No. 65.

And graduates can expect to find jobs waiting for them. In 2019, the statewide unemployment rate in Georgia was below the national average, at 3.4% of the total workforce.

In Georgia, post-secondary attainment varies by county. As a report by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute specifies, a wide disparity of wealth, education, and healthcare opportunities all affect residents’ ability to obtain a degree.

It also points out that it takes money to study at the college or university level, saying that in 2019, when the median annual income for a Georgia family was $68,000, 23 public universities and colleges served students with annual median incomes of less than that.

35. South Dakota

South Dakota - Augustana University
Augustana University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 31%

The Mount Rushmore State has some challenges to face. It falls a little short of the mark for attainment, then takes a big tumble on quality.

The average quality of South Dakota’s universities is the third-lowest in the country, and its highest-rated school, Augustana University, barely squeezed into the top 400 on Forbes’ list.

South Dakota is also tied with New Hampshire for the highest percentage of graduates still struggling with student loan debt, at 74%.

To understand the root of the state’s issues, it’s reasonable to look at the public school system that leads up to its colleges and universities.

In the national Quality Counts survey, reported on by EdWeek, South Dakota receives a D- for its school finance — meaning the amount of money it spends on education for each student — ranking it 38th out of the 50 states.

The state spends $13,847 on average for every student in the pre K to grade 12 demographic, which is under the national average by $1,267.

It also scores dismally in terms of its improvement over time, coming in 41st out of 50.

36. Idaho

Idaho - Brigham Young University Idaho
Brigham Young University Idaho

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 29%

While the Gem State’s collection of degrees and diplomas is lackluster, it’s the quality of its education that could use a serious polish. Idaho falls into the bottom five in that category.

None of Idaho’s highest-rated schools made the top 400 on Forbes’ list, although Brigham Young University - Idaho came close at No. 413.

In 2021, the Idaho Education News reported on this lag in post-secondary attainment, saying that its “go-on rate” — the amount of high school students going directly to college or university without a gap year in between — had been on a continual decline since 2014.

They surmised it might be due to students taking advantage of the current, heated job market.

Idahoans are managing to keep busy. In 2019, the average unemployment rate was just 2.9%, tied with Massachusetts for the sixth-lowest in the country.

Idaho’s population has exploded over the past decade — by 7.4% according to data supplied by the U.S. Census — which has helped its economy.

The U.S. News reports that Idaho’s economy is the third strongest in the nation, with job growth spread throughout the state.

37. Indiana

Indiana - University of Notre Dame
carroteater / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 28%

The quality of education in Indiana is extremely high — seventh-best in the country — but the Hoosier State’s poor levels of educational attainment drag it way down on our list.

Indiana has one of the lowest rates of higher education in the U.S., despite being home to five of the country’s 150 best schools, including the University of Notre Dame, which Forbes ranked at No. 18.

Thankfully, the job market is strong. Unemployment in Indiana is lower than average — only 3.3% of the state’s total workforce were jobless in 2019.

The Indiana Commission of Higher Education issued a College Equity Report which affirmed that the state has seen a decline in college enrollment over the past several years, with a significant decrease among rural men and prospective students of color.

They also point out that nearly two out of five Indiana high school graduates are low-income. For those students who qualify for the state’s low-income college-entry scholarships — the 21st Century Scholars — there is a higher likelihood that they will stay in Indiana and complete post-secondary education.

38. Arizona

Arizona - Arizona State University
Arizona State University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 30%

The Grand Canyon State falls deep, deep in the rankings for the quality of its education — 44 out of 50 — and its rating for educational attainment isn’t very inspiring, either.

None of Arizona’s highest-rated schools hit the top 150 on Forbes’ list. The best, Arizona State University - Tempe, came in at No. 186.

Arizona also had one of the highest average unemployment rates in the country in 2019, at 4.7% of the total workforce.

In 2021, the U.S. Census used 2019’s fiscal year data to rank Arizona 49th out of 50 in terms of its per-student spending, with their total amount per student around $10,000, as opposed to the national average of $15,700.

In 2021, the Arizona Education News published an article saying the Arizona public school system fought the Legislature to overturn a cap on its spending that would prohibit it from using $1.6 billion that had already been budgeted.

The cap was overturned in February 2022, saving many Arizona schools from imminent closure.

The Education Law Center issued a report that says that out of all 50 states, Arizona spends the least effort on funding schools, and the ELC draws a link between that and students being prepared for post-secondary education.

39. Texas

Texas - Rice University
Rice University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 32%

If WalletHub used a different grading system, Texas would receive a lone star for educational attainment. Only one other state fares worse at encouraging its students to finish high school.

That seems to have little to do with Texas’ quality of education, which is quite respectable at 15 out of 50. Its three highest-rated schools all made the top 100 on Forbes’ list.

The statewide unemployment rate in 2019 was also below the national average.

In early 2022, the Intercultural Development Research Association released their attrition report — defined as the rate that students leave school without graduating — on Texas public high schools, claiming that one out of every five Texas high schoolers don’t finish high school.

According to their methodology, it will take until 2038 for Texas to reach universal high school education.

That report also said that in 2017, the attrition rate was 29% higher for low-income students than it was for their peers.

They also showed that after years of declining attrition rates, the latest data — for the 2018/19 school year, released in 2021 — again shows an increase in dropouts.

A report done by ABC News Texas provided anecdotal evidence that many Texans drop out in order to find jobs and help financially support their families.

40. Oklahoma

Oklahoma - University of Oklahoma
Brad Remy / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 27%

Considering Oklahoma’s decent quality of education — WalletHub ranks it as the 23rd best — residents of the Sooner State may have expected to see it pop up sooner on this list.

Alas, poor numbers in the halls of higher learning cement its spot as the 11th-least educated state in the union.

Oklahomans can take some solace in the fact that their average student loan debt is one of the lowest in the country at $25,793. Less than half the state’s graduates are still paying off debt from their college days.

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education launched a program in 2007 called “Show What You Know”, which aimed to confer college credits for real life experience.

But a data table they released in 2021, which compared the annual headcount enrollment throughout the educational system over a decade, showed a slow and steady decrease in students.

That provides a counterpoint to Oklahoma’s economy, which is considered the fourth strongest in the country, according to research provided by the Rich States, Poor States report put out by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

41. Tennessee

Tennessee - Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 31%

Few students in the Volunteer State are taking the initiative to continue their education, leading to a ranking of 41 out of 50 for attainment.

The quality of education in Tennessee fares a bit better, although it’s still nothing to brag about — WalletHub places it in the 31st position.

Vanderbilt University is the state’s highest-rated school, coming in at No. 27 on Forbes’ list, but it’s the only college in Tennessee to make the top 100.

In 2015, Tennessee’s “Every Student Succeeds Act” was signed into law, according to the state’s department of education, which clarified their vision to prepare every student so that they have choice and quality options after they graduate.

Part of their mandate is to increase the number of Tennesseans having a post-secondary credential to 55% by 2025.

It also emphasized the importance of accountability at the school and district levels to improve graduation rates.

To support a more nuanced approach to their grading system, in 2021 Bill SB1340 was sent to the Tennessee Senate after it had passed through the Tennessee General Assembly on its second consideration.

The bill mandated all schools to evaluate whether the measures introduced by the ESSA were actually effective.

42. New Mexico

New Mexico - New Mexico Tech
New Mexico Tech

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 27%

New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment, but residents are likely disillusioned about the quality of education in their state. It’s ranked fourth worst in the country.

It also has a higher share of adults without a high school diploma than most other states, and none of New Mexico’s highest-rated schools managed to sneak into the top 400 on Forbes’ list.

Thankfully, that education comes at a bargain price. New Mexico has the second-lowest student debt in the country at $20,991 and the third-lowest percentage of graduates in debt at 45%.

In 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau said 16.8% of the total population of New Mexico faced poverty. According to Britannica, government spending accounts for up to one quarter of their revenue.

The New Mexico Department of Higher Education is trying to address the gap that exists between residents and higher education.

Reach Higher NM is an initiative for free tuition for all qualifying New Mexican residents. Students who are willing to take six credits can receive scholarships to cover all tuition and fees.

It will also help residents re-train for second careers or certificates to further their existing skills.

43. Nevada

Nevada - University of Nevada Reno
University of Nevada Reno

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 25%

Studying in Nevada can be a bit of a gamble. It ranks 30th for quality of education, and none of Nevada’s highest-rated schools entered the top 300 on Forbes’ list.

Educational attainment is considerably worse, at 44 out of 50. Only a quarter of Nevada’s adults have a bachelor’s or graduate degree, and an alarming 14% haven’t graduated high school.

The one area where the Silver State shines is student loan debt. It has the third-lowest average debt in the country, at $21,254.

A potential reason for its low student loans is that since 2019, the Nevada Department of Higher Education has had tax exempt status conferred by the state’s tax department.

Nevada’s economy is, of course, famously dependent on its gambling and hospitality industries, with the Nevada Gaming Commission reporting that it brought in over $16 billion dollars in revenue in 2021.

For the past several years, the Nevada Department of Education has recorded a graduation rate of just over 80%, and job sites like Simply Hired list several openings for people who have left high school without a diploma.

Economy over education.

44. South Carolina

South Carolina - Furman University
Furman University

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 30%

Many of South Carolina’s students are choosing not to continue their studies, and perhaps for good reason.

The quality of its education is considered the second worst in the country. The highest-ranked school in South Carolina on Forbes’ list is Furman University, which came in at No. 127.

Regardless, people aren’t struggling to find jobs in the Palmetto State. Its average unemployment rate in 2019 was an encouraging 2.8%, tied with Virginia and Colorado as the fifth-lowest in the country.

Personal finance website Simply Thrifty Living compiled statistics about tuition in each state, and found that if you compared South Carolina’s cost of attendance — tuition, books, housing and other related expenses included in post-secondary education — with their median income, tuition would cost 45.6% of the average resident’s salary.

Considering that the Consumer Price Index, the cost of gas, and the cost of both public and private post secondary education has risen sharply over the past decade, it makes sense that the majority of South Carolinians graduate and enter the workforce.

45. Kentucky

Kentucky - Centre College
Centre College

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26%

The quality of education in the Bluegrass State is only a bit below the median, but its attainment score hits a sour note.

Kentucky has a substantial rate of high school dropouts, and over half of its adults haven’t achieved anything greater than a diploma.

On top of that, Kentucky has the fourth lowest share of adults with a bachelor’s degree in the country.

None of its highest-rated schools made it into the top 200 on Forbes’ list, with Center College taking the state’s top spot at No. 209.

The government of Kentucky is focused on providing its residents with affordable post-secondary education.

Several of its universities have deployed what are colloquially known as “last dollar scholarships”, trying to reach those lower-income students who have received the maximum amount of other assistance and would still be in debt.

The state’s “big goal” is to have 60% of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree by 2030.

In order to achieve that goal, according to their research, they would need to grow their number of graduates by 1.7%, a goal they’ve outpaced since they set it.

46. Alabama

Alabama - Auburn University
Rob Hainer / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 27%

Hopefully Alabama’s famous cotton can cushion this blow.

The state ranks extremely low in both educational attainment and quality of education: sixth worst and eighth worst, respectively.

None of Alabama’s highest-rated schools made the top 150 on Forbes’ list, with Auburn University coming closest at No. 166.

That said, Alabama manages to keep more of its residents employed than some of the other states at the bottom of this list.

In 2019, the average unemployment rate in Alabama was 3.0%, which was tied with Maine and Nebraska for the seventh-lowest in the country.

Alabama.com reported about the $7.7 billion education grant awarded in 2021, meant to address funding gaps that were made even worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the funds will go to pre K to grade 12, but $2.2 billion reserved for post-secondary.

Their 2022 fiscal budget shows an effort made to retain teachers, whose jobs were put in jeopardy by falling enrollment numbers; upgrading technical equipment across the board; mental health initiatives; investing in special education; and working on becoming National Board certified.

47. Arkansas

Arkansas - University of Arkansas
University of Arkansas

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 24%

The Natural State has an unnaturally low number of degrees. Nationwide, it has the third-lowest percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree, as well as the third-lowest share of graduate degree holders.

Unfortunately, WalletHub suggests the quality of an Arkansas education isn’t great, either.

It has the fifth-lowest average university quality in the country. None of its highest-rated schools reach the top 250 of Forbes’ list, with the University of Arkansas taking the top spot at No. 271.

According to Britannica, their economy has experienced some stumbling blocks as the global market has opened up, but parts of the state have been isolated from each other, which has impeded their progress. U.S. News now ranks it 44th out of 50 by grading different categories like health care, fiscal stability, and education.

Data from the U.S. Censussays that 15.2% of Arkansas residents live in poverty.

Their population only increased by 0.5% between 2010-2020, and the state reports that, while certain cities grew, the Delta lost a large part of its population.

The Arkansas Department of Higher Education is hopeful that they can increase the number of adults who have a certificate from a post-secondary institution from 23.8% to 55% by 2030.

48. Louisiana

Louisiana - Tulane University
Tim Roberts Photography / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 26%

It seems student life’s not so sweet in the Sugar State. Its overall educational attainment is the third worst in the country, and the quality of its education is ninth worst.

Louisiana also has one of the highest rates of adults without a high school diploma and is tied with Kentucky for the fifth-lowest share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree.

To top it off, in 2019 Louisiana had the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country, at 4.8% of the total workforce.

The Council for a Better Louisiana has highlighted the connection between better education and more opportunities for its residents.

Minutes from their 2021 legislative session show that $3.9 billion was budgeted towards their pre K to grade 12 students, and higher education receiving its largest endowment ever of $108 million.

The Board of Regents has asked that the state’s education department double the number of residents who have attained a post-secondary certification by 2030, which would increase the number of university or college graduates from the 40,000 it was in 2018 to 85,000.

49. West Virginia

West Virginia - West Virginia University
Studio Zoom / Shutterstock

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 22%

The Mountain State has a mountain of work to do when it comes to encouraging students. It’s ranked dead last in the country for educational attainment.

West Virginia also has the second-lowest percentage of residents with a graduate degree.

The quality of a West Virginia education isn’t so bad — but once you have it, paying off your student debt will be a daunting task. Two-thirds of the state’s graduates are still shouldering some financial burden from their college loans.

According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, not only has the amount of federal loans skyrocketed from $516 billion in 2007 to $1.6 trillion in 2021, but West Virginians carry $6.5 billion of that debt.

Britannica asserts that West Virginia has experienced declining quality of life and increasing “out-migration” as industries pivoted from using coal, one of the state’s biggest resources. Historically, they have been one of the poorest states in the U.S.

But their department of higher education has created the West Virginia Climbs campaign in order to meet the federally-set goal of having 60% of residents achieve a post-secondary certification by 2030.

50. Mississippi

Mississippi - University of Mississippi
University of Mississippi

Share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 22%

The label of least-educated state in the U.S. goes to Mississippi, which the WalletHub study calls dead last in quality of education and second-to-last in both educational attainment and average university quality.

Mississippi is tied with West Virginia as the state with the lowest share of residents that hold at least a bachelor’s degree. It has a significant number of high school dropouts, and more than half of its adult residents haven’t achieved more than a high school diploma.

Worst of all, it’s clear people aren’t skipping their schooling because jobs are so abundant. In 2019, Mississippi had the second-highest average unemployment rate in the country, at 5.4%.

Mississippi scores extremely low on The U.S. News’ metrics for infrastructure, economy, education, and fiscal stability.

According to America’s Health Rankings, Mississippi ranks last in terms of food security. Their residents also had less overall access to medical care and stable housing.

The Lumina Foundation estimates it will take Mississippi until 2040 to have a higher education attainment of 60%.

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About the Author

Shane Murphy

Shane Murphy

Reporter

Shane is a reporter for MoneyWise. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from Western University and is a graduate of the Algonquin College Scriptwriting program.

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