Are You Smart Enough For Success? U.S. Education In All 50 States, Ranked

MIAMI, Fla. — Where you live and go to school can help determine your financial future. A comprehensive WalletHub analysis of the education levels across the United States has unveiled that states with higher education standards not only promise a brighter future for their residents but also offer a cushion against economic downturns. This investigation meticulously compared all 50 states using 18 critical metrics, ranging from educational attainment and school quality to the achievement gaps among different genders and races, shedding light on the crucial role education plays in both personal and statewide economic stability.

At the forefront of this educational excellence is Massachusetts, celebrated for its prestigious institutions like MIT and Harvard. The state boasts the highest proportion of adults over the age of 25 with a Bachelor’s degree (nearly 46%) and the greatest percentage of individuals holding graduate or professional degrees (almost 21%). What sets Massachusetts apart is not just its renowned higher education institutions but also its exceptional high schools, leading the nation in math and reading test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Harvard University
At the forefront of this educational excellence is Massachusetts, celebrated for its prestigious institutions like MIT and Harvard. (Photo by Emily Karakis on Unsplash)

Following closely is Vermont, ranked as the second-most educated state. With nearly 42 percent of its adult population holding at least a Bachelor’s degree and over 17 percent possessing graduate or professional degrees, Vermont also impresses with its high school diploma attainment rate, which exceeds 94 percent.

Maryland secures the third spot, notable for its innovative free statewide community college program aimed at broadening access to higher education. This initiative contributes to Maryland’s high rankings in terms of Bachelor’s and graduate or professional degree holders.

Rounding out the top five most educated states are Connecticut and Colorado. However, on the flip side, the least educated states in America all fall below the Mason-Dixon line. They include Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia, ranking last among educated states.

WalletHub’s Most Educated States






















































Overall Rank*  State Total Score  Educational Attainment Rank  Quality of Education Rank 
1 Massachusetts 82.32 1 1
2 Vermont 76.30 3 6
3 Maryland 75.97 4 5
4 Connecticut 73.51 6 3
5 Colorado 70.83 2 34
6 Virginia 70.43 5 10
7 New Jersey 69.97 10 4
8 New Hampshire 68.32 7 15
9 Minnesota 66.98 8 16
10 Washington 64.27 9 25
11 Utah 63.33 11 18
12 Delaware 60.05 19 7
13 Illinois 59.19 16 12
14 Montana 58.30 13 31
15 New York 58.29 18 14
16 Rhode Island 57.77 21 9
17 Oregon 57.44 12 43
18 Hawaii 57.43 15 27
19 Maine 56.51 14 37
20 Wisconsin 54.84 25 13
21 Florida 54.54 35 2
22 North Carolina 52.80 28 17
23 Kansas 52.18 17 48
24 Nebraska 51.97 20 41
25 North Dakota 51.69 24 38
26 Pennsylvania 51.38 26 30
27 Michigan 51.19 27 28
28 Wyoming 50.87 23 42
29 California 50.37 37 8
30 Georgia 49.20 32 23
31 Alaska 49.10 22 49
32 Missouri 48.94 31 26
33 Iowa 48.76 30 29
34 South Dakota 48.48 34 24
35 Ohio 48.33 36 20
36 Arizona 46.02 33 40
37 Idaho 45.97 29 45
38 South Carolina 44.55 38 35
39 Tennessee 43.38 40 19
40 Indiana 43.32 41 11
41 Texas 40.50 42 22
42 New Mexico 37.12 39 50
43 Kentucky 36.06 45 32
44 Nevada 35.67 46 21
45 Alabama 35.62 44 36
46 Oklahoma 34.93 43 46
47 Arkansas 31.03 47 33
48 Louisiana 28.84 48 39
49 Mississippi 25.72 49 47
50 West Virginia 24.82 50 44

Note: *No. 1 = Most Educated
With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that state, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric category.

“Getting a good education doesn’t guarantee high future earnings and better opportunities, but there’s a definite correlation,” says Cassandra Happe, a WalletHub analyst, in a media release. “It’s certainly worth living in one of the most educated states, which offer high-quality learning from childhood all the way through the university level. That’s especially true if you plan to raise children.”

Experts WalletHub spoke with also explore the impact of K-12 education quality on students’ educational outcomes, highlighting diverse perspectives on what constitutes a “quality” education. While traditional metrics like standardized test scores are commonly used to evaluate school performance, experts advocate for a broader definition that includes teachers’ investment in recognizing and nurturing each student’s potential. This holistic approach is supported by findings from various studies suggesting that factors such as well-prepared teachers, adequate counseling, and student-centered educational practices significantly influence high school completion rates and college attendance.

High school student studying, taking exam in classHigh school student studying, taking exam in class
Where you live and go to school may help determine your financial future. (© Monkey Business – stock.adobe.com)

“For example, if we create policies to ensure schools not only hire but retain teachers, our youth will have improved chances of succeeding in K-12 thus increasing chances that students enroll in some form of postsecondary education,” explains Dr. Ramon Goings, associate professor in the Language, Literacy, and Culture doctoral program at the University of Maryland. “These youth will go on to become our next generation of entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, lawyers, real estate investors, and voting taxpaying members of society which will continue to stimulate our economic growth. By creating policies to ensure all students succeed our economy will be a direct beneficiary.”

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Methodology

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. WalletHub 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 black people over white people, WalletHub gave equal credit to the states with no gender/racial inequality. These metrics were marked accordingly with an asterisk (*).

WalletHub then determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order the states.

Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected as of January 29, 2024 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, EdChoice and WalletHub research.

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