The Most Highly Educated States in the U.S.

Counting down the top 10 states with the highest rates of educational attainment.

January 10, 2022 · Updated on May 6, 2022

The Most Highly Educated States in the U.S.
Opinion & Analysis
Photo by Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

  • 42% of Americans over the age of 25 have some type of college degree.
  • But educational attainment varies greatly by state.
  • Massachusetts and Colorado are the only states where over 50% of adults hold college degrees.
  • Increased educational attainment positively correlates with high employment rates.

Educational attainment in the U.S. is as widespread and varied as the nation itself. Even amid national declines in undergraduate enrollment and growing interest in alternative education pathways, millions of Americans have continued to pursue a traditional college degree.

Of nearly 225 million adults over the age of 25, almost 94 million have earned an associate, bachelor's, graduate, or professional degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent data. These individuals represent 42% of the country's adult population. And though this group of degree-holders is still growing, educational attainment and quality of education across the nation differs greatly by state.

Below is a breakdown of educational attainment in the U.S. and a roundup of the top 10 most educated states.

Educational Attainment by State

The following map depicts educational attainment in the U.S. by state, according to the most recent American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Map of Educational Attainment by State

State

* Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

The Top 10 Most Educated States

The majority of states with the highest rates of educational attainment are in the Northeast. Many states with high rates of education additionally have high rates of employment.

1. Massachusetts

Massachusetts has the highest percentage of degree-holders in the U.S. (52%) and is one of just two states where more than half of the adult population has some type of college degree.

The state is home to top-ranked institutions including Harvard and MIT, and has the highest percentage of graduate or professional degree-holders (20%) and the second highest percentage of bachelor's degree-holders (26%) in the nation.


2. Colorado

Colorado is the second most educated state, with 51% of its adult population having an associate degree or higher. It has the highest percentage of bachelor's degree-holders in the U.S. (27%) and ranks fifth for employment, with 67% of its population over the age of 16 in the labor force. That’s slightly higher than the national average of 63%.


3. Minnesota

Minnesota has the third highest percentage of degree-holders in the U.S., with 49% of the adult population having some type of college degree. In addition to its high rate of educational attainment, 70% of the population over the age of 16 is in the labor force.


4. Virginia

Nearly half of Virginia's adult population has some type of college degree. The state is home to notable universities like Virginia Tech and University of Virginia, and 22% of adults over 25 years old have a bachelor's degree in the state.


5. Maryland

Maryland has the second highest percentage of graduate degree-holders in the nation (19%). The state is home to Johns Hopkins University and about 68% of its population over 16 years of age is employed.


6. New Jersey

New Jersey has the second highest percentage of bachelor's degree-holders in the nation (25%). As the sixth most educated state, 48% of its adult population has some type of college degree. The state is home to Princeton University and Rutgers University.


7. Washington

Washington is one of the most educated states due to its high percentage of bachelor's (23%) and graduate degree-holders (14%).


8. New Hampshire

New Hampshire makes the list of the top 10 most educated states due to its high percentage of bachelor's degree-holders, who make up 23% of the state's adult population over the age of 25. In addition to its high educational attainment rates, New Hampshire had one of the lowest unemployment rates of any state in 2021 at 2.7%.


9. New York

New York is home to two Ivy League universities — Columbia and Cornell — and 21% of its adult population has earned a bachelor's degree. Overall, about 47% of the state's adult population has earned some type of college degree.


10. Vermont

Vermont rounds out the top 10 most educated states with 47% of its adult population having an associate degree or higher. More than 65% of the state's population over 16 is employed in the labor force.