Most Educated States in the U.S.
The number of Americans age 25 and older with a master’s or doctoral degree has doubled in the past 20 years. As of 2018, the 13.1 percent of Americans who hold an advanced degree earned on average 3.7 times as much as those who had not completed high school.
Those with degrees from community colleges or state universities tend to settle close to their alma mater. Graduates of elite colleges tend to head for the big city and may even move hundreds of miles away for their careers. This results in some areas of the country attracting large numbers of college graduates, particularly those with advanced degrees.
A state’s economy plays a role, as well as cultural and entertainment attractions. Overall, states with a higher percentage of residents with an advanced degree tend to be those with large metropolitan areas where large corporate headquarters are located. People move to where the best jobs are.
These are the most educated states in the U.S.
Hawaii Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 11.2
Median household income: $74,923
Note: The percentages of people holding advanced degrees in each of the most highly educated states come from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Bottom Line for Hawaii
Tourism is the main industry in Hawaii. It contributes $1.8 billion in tax revenue.
The state is rated number one in health care by U.S. News & World Report, and many of the state’s largest employers are health-care providers.
Other top industries include defense and education. Along with Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire and North Dakota, Hawaii has the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
Michigan Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 11.5
Median household income: $52,668
Bottom Line for Michigan
Though American automobiles no longer dominate the industry, Detroit has maintained its position as a prominent manufacturing center.
The Automotive Big Three (General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler) remain headquartered in the state, but the transportation, trade, health and education sectors now employ greater numbers of workers. The city’s easy access to Lake Erie also makes it a national shipping hub.
Michigan State and the University of Michigan (pictured) rank No. 2 and No. 3 in the state when it comes to largest employers. Both are considered notable research institutions, and the University of Michigan boasts the sixth-largest academic library in the country.
Capital: Salt Lake City
Utah Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 11.8
Median household income: $65,325
Bottom Line for Utah
Utah had the second-highest GDP growth among the states in 2017 and also ranks in the top five states that are home to startup companies.
It has been called the "Wall Street of the West" by Goldman Sachs, and the professional and business services, health-care and construction fields are expected to increase in the coming years.
Major construction projects such as the redevelopment of the Salt Lake City International Airport and an Amazon fulfillment center are expected to add even more revenue to the state.
22. New Mexico
Capital: Santa Fe
New Mexico Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 11.8
Median household income: $46,718
Bottom Line for New Mexico
New Mexico has the second-highest number of jobs in high-tech industries. It is known for its oil and gas production and federal government spending.
The state is home to three Air Force bases, White Sands Missile Range and the federal research facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.
In addition, more than one-third of the land is federally protected and overseen by agencies such as the National Park Service.
Georgia Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 11.9
Median household income: $52,977
Bottom Line for Georgia
Traditionally, Georgia is known for its agriculture. While it was originally a top cotton producer, today the state is known more for its peanuts and pecans and leads the nation in producing broiler chickens and eggs.
Emory University (pictured) is one of the largest employers. The school’s affiliated hospital is among the best in the nation for the treatment of cancer and heart disease. Georgia Institute of Technology is considered an incubator for entrepreneurs.
Military, medical and aeronautic fields are the state’s other top industries.
Maine Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 12.1
Median household income: $53,024
Bottom Line for Maine
While foresting is the primary industry in Maine (which leads the world in pulp-paper production), seven out of the 10 largest employers in the state are health-care providers.
Maine is of great importance to national transportation as well. Portland is one of New England’s busiest ports.
The University of Maine (pictured), the state’s 10th-largest employer, is also its largest institution of higher education.
Pennsylvania Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 12.5
Median household income: $56,951
Bottom Line for Pennsylvania
Historically known for its stores of coal and its steel production, Pennsylvania today is known as the snack food capital of the world: Its snack and food sales total more than $5.1 billion annually.
The state is also known for agriculture, particularly mushrooms, which are produced at a rate of 425 million pounds a year.
The commonwealth is home to 187 colleges and universities, including the University of Pennsylvania (pictured) and Penn State, both of which are among the 10 largest employers in the state.
Capital: St. Paul
Minnesota Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 12.5
Median household income: $65,699
Bottom Line for Minnesota
Minnesota is ranked in the top five states for the number of inventor patents.
The Mayo Clinic, one of the largest not-for-profit, academic health systems in the U.S., is based in the state and is one of its largest employers. Retail and manufacturing are two other major industries. Minnesota is home to Fortune 500 companies such as Target, General Mills, 3M and United Health Group.
The University of Minnesota is not only the largest college in the state but also the sixth-largest campus in the U.S.
Kansas Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 12.6
Median household income: $56,951
Bottom Line for Kansas
Kansas is the top wheat producer in the country and ranks seventh nationally for total agricultural production. Its $20 billion agriculture industry is mostly made up of family-owned farms and ranches.
Other important industries include manufacturing, bioscience, wind energy, professional services, renewable fuels and bioenergy. Mineral production occurs throughout the state, mostly petroleum and natural gas, followed by helium, limestone and salt.
Many of the state’s top employers are in Kansas City, including Garmin and Hallmark.
California Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 12.6
Median household income: $67,169
Bottom Line for California
California has the largest economy in the U.S. and ranks in the top five states that employ workers in high-tech jobs.
California also leads the country when it comes to the number of independent inventor patents (tied with Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon). The state is known for its entertainment and fashion industries as well as for being a leader in technology.
The state has 280 colleges and universities, including Stanford, Caltech and the University of California, whose campuses at Berkeley (pictured), Davis and Los Angeles are all in the top 25 research universities in the nation.
Oregon Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 12.7
Median household income: $56,119
Bottom Line for Oregon
Historically, Oregon has been known for fishing, timber and agriculture. More recently, the state has been transitioning to manufacturing and marketing jobs with an emphasis on technology.
The state’s manufacturing GDP has been rising since 2015. It also has been growing as a winemaking region and is tied with California, Massachusetts and Washington for the most inventor patents.
Intel is the largest employer in the state. Other major employers include Nike, Precision Castparts Corp., Daimler Trucks North America and adidas America.
Oregon is home to Willamette University, which was founded in 1842 and is the oldest university in the Western United States. Oregon Institute of Technology and the University of Portland both rank in the rank in the top 10 in the region.
14. Rhode Island
Rhode Island Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 13.1
Median household income: $61,043
Bottom Line for Rhode Island
The smallest state in the U.S. is home to strong finance, insurance and real estate sectors. In fact, Providence (pictured) is known as a financial hub for all of New England.
The most common employers in the state are private research facilities, law firms, computer programming companies and repair shops.
Despite Rhode Island's small size, the state is home to 11 universities, including the Ivy League's Brown University, and Rhode Island School of Design, known as one of the country’s best art and design schools.
Rhode Island also works to attract STEM and design graduates through its annual Wavemaker Fellowship, which helps with student loans for up to four years.
Washington Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 13.3
Median household income: $66,174
Bottom Line for Washington
Since 2014, Washington’s economy has been growing. In 2019, it was named the best economy in the nation in a WalletHub study.
Producing about 88 times the number of goods and services as Vermont, Washington's economy is larger than the smallest 24 states, plus Washington, D.C., combined. It is home to both Microsoft and Amazon and ranks in the top five states employing workers in high-tech industries.
While known for information services and retail sectors, Washington also has more STEM workers than any other state and is tied for first with California, Oregon and Massachusetts for the number of patents filed each year.
The lack of state or corporate income tax attracts businesses to the state. In 2017, Washington had the highest GDP growth in the nation.
Illinois Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 13.4
Median household income: $61,229
Bottom Line for Illinois
Illinois is home to major corporations such as Allstate, Boeing, Kraft Heinz and Walgreens. Other major industries include education, biotechnology and energy.
The state is a leader in clean energy. It utilizes a significant amount of wind power and produces considerable ethanol fuel.
Its 127 colleges and universities include Northwestern University (pictured), one of the country’s leading private research universities, and the University of Illinois, which also is one of the state’s largest employers over multiple campuses.
Delaware Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 13.5
Median household income: $63,036
Bottom Line for Delaware
Chemical manufacturing is important to Delaware’s economy. The state is home to DuPont Co., one of the world’s largest chemical manufacturing companies.
Finance and business are also top industries, largely due to the low taxes and pro-business laws that entice so many companies to establish their headquarters here. Health care is another large industry. Many of the top 25 employers are in this field.
The University of Delaware, the state’s oldest and largest institute of higher education is one of two research universities in the state. The school offers 182 advanced degree programs.
10. New Hampshire
New Hampshire Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 14.3 percent
Median household income: $71,305
Bottom Line for New Hampshire
New Hampshire is known for its high-tech industries (ranked No. 3 in a recent WalletHub report), especially electronic component manufacturing. Smart Manufacturing/High Technology (SMHT), the largest economic sector of the state, produces electronic components using high-tech equipment.
The state also is known for biotech and medical research and has more than 300 companies that work in the aerospace and defense industries. It is tied with Vermont, Iowa, Hawaii and North Dakota for the lowest unemployment rate.
The state is home to Dartmouth College, which was founded before the American Revolution. The University of New Hampshire consists of five universities and is the largest postsecondary educator in the state and the second-largest employer.
Colorado Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 15.2
Median household income: $65,458
Bottom Line for Colorado
Historically, Colorado’s economy has depended on agriculture, livestock and mining. The state‘s technology sector has been expanding.
U.S. News & World Report recently ranked the state’s economy number one in the nation, giving it high scores for growth and entrepreneurship. WalletHub put Colorado in third place in the nation in terms of startup activity.
The state has 62 colleges and universities, including the United States Air Force Academy (pictured). Several of these are among the state’s largest employers. Denver International Airport and Lockheed Martin Space Systems are other top employers.
8. New Jersey
New Jersey Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 15.6
Median household income: $76,475
Bottom Line for New Jersey
New Jersey is home to more than 5,000 information and technology companies as well as several pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Some of its largest employers include Verizon, Johnson & Johnson and Merck. The state also has a significant tourism industry, based along its Atlantic coast.
New Jersey was the only colony to establish two colleges in colonial periods: Princeton (pictured), which was chartered 1746 as the College of New Jersey, and Rutgers, which was chartered 1766 as Queen’s College.
Only nine were founded in the colonies before the American Revolution.
Vermont Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 15.8
Median household income: $57,808
Bottom Line for Vermont
Vermont may have the smallest economy in the nation, but it is the No. 1 producer of maple syrup. It also is known for its dairy products, especially cheese, and other agricultural products.
The state celebrates its homegrown products such as Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (pictured) and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Along with Iowa, Hawaii, New Hampshire and North Dakota, Vermont has the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
Burlington’s University of Vermont is the state’s largest institute of higher education, and the university’s medical center is the state’s top employer.
6. New York
New York Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 15.8
Median household income: $62,765
Bottom Line for New York
In addition to being the home of the New York Stock Exchange (the world’s largest), New York City also is the headquarters for half of the 10 largest U.S. banks, including Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. Tourism and health care are other important industries in the state.
New York City is the most populous city in the U.S., and in 2006, one in four residents had an advanced degree. The state is home to two Ivy League schools (Columbia and Cornell Universities) as well as many other nationally ranked schools.
Virginia Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 16.7
Median household income: $68,766
Bottom Line for Virginia
Virginia has a diverse economy, largely separated by region.
The coast is known for shipbuilding, the west has farmland and wineries, and technology companies line the suburban Washington corridor. The north is home to many federal workers who make the commute to Washington, D.C.
Virginia is home to 172 institutes of higher learning, including the nation’s second-oldest, The College of William and Mary (pictured). Virginia Tech is the largest university in the state.
Connecticut Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 17.3
Median household income: $73,781
Bottom Line for Connecticut
Digital media is one of Connecticut’s top industries (more than 1,200 digital media businesses resided in the state in 2015).
It is also home to the headquarters of several Fortune 500 companies, including Aetna, Cigna and United Technologies (the parent company of Carrier and Otis Elevator).
Other top industries include manufacturing, bioscience, green tech and insurance and financial services.
Yale University (pictured) is the state’s oldest university (founded in 1701) and one of its largest employers.
Maryland Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 18.3
Median household income: $78,916
Bottom Line for Maryland
U.S. News & World Report ranked Maryland the sixth-best state in the nation, citing its status as an "aerospace and defense hot spot."
Home to the National Institutes of Health, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and major defense contractors, the state’s economy is boosted not only by information technology, telecommunications, aerospace and defense companies but also by over 60 federal agencies.
The state is known for health care and biotechnology, and is home to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. With its proximity to the nation’s capital, Maryland also is home to many federal workers who commute daily to Washington, D.C.
Johns Hopkins University and the United States Naval Academy are both located in the state.
Massachusetts Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 19.5
Median household income: $74,167
Bottom Line for Massachusetts
Massachusetts is home to two internationally recognized higher education institutions: Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, pictured), both of which are consistently listed among the top 10 in the world. The state’s largest employers are in the education and health-care fields, closely followed by manufacturing and technology.
The state boasts the highest percentage of high-tech jobs and along with California, Washington and Oregon, leads the country when it comes to inventor patents.
U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Massachusetts No. 1 in education, No. 2 in health care and No. 7 in the economy.
1. District of Columbia
Capital: Washington, D.C.
District of Columbia Facts and Figures
Percent holding advanced degrees: 33.4
Median household income: $82,372
Bottom Line for District of Columbia
While Washington, D.C., is not a state, the nation’s capital is where most spending decisions are made for the federal government.
The U.S. government purchases more technological equipment and services that any other entity, encouraging many industries to establish a presence in the district. Almost 50 Fortune 500 companies and many top financial institutions have locations here.
The district is home to a number of colleges and universities, including five research universities. One of these, Georgetown University, founded in 1789, is among the oldest in the nation.
George Washington University has the largest enrollment in the District and offers over 240 graduate degrees. Most GW graduates tend to remain in the Mid-Atlantic area.
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