Earning a college degree is one of the best ways to open up opportunities, especially to higher-paying jobs. The economic benefits of a well-educated population are also far-reaching.
Based on recently released educational attainment data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 24/7 Wall St. analyzed the level of higher education in every metro area in each state. The nation’s most educated metro area is Boulder, Colorado, where 60.6% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree. The least educated metro is Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Arizona, where just 11.9% of adults are college educated.
The difference in college attainment rates between a state’s most and least educated metro areas can be greater than 40 percentage points. This is the case in Oregon, where 55.1% of adults in Corvallis have a college degree, while just 14.0% of adults in Grants Pass have at least a bachelor’s degree.
While higher education levels can vary considerably, the cities with the highest college attainment rates tend to be in states with relatively high education levels overall. Bachelor’s degree recipients comprised at least 40% of the adult population in the most educated city in seven of the 10 most educated states in the country.
> Most educated city: Lexington-Fayette
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 35.5%
> Number of postsecondary institutions: 19
> Median household income: $53,117
Adults across Kentucky, 23.2% of whom have at least a bachelor’s degree, are less likely than adults across the nation to have a college degree. In the state’s most educated metro area, Lexington-Fayette, 35.5% of adults have at least a college degree, in contrast with the national college attainment rate of 30.6%. As is the case in many of the nation’s most educated metro areas, Lexington-Fayette is home to a major research institution that has likely attracted businesses to the area. Nearly 23,000 undergraduates are enrolled at The University of Kentucky.
A college education usually opens the door to higher-paying job opportunities. Further, because children of parents with college degrees are more likely to go to college themselves, the financial benefits of higher education can span multiple generations. For these reasons, populations of the most educated cities frequently also report higher incomes. Looking at the most educated metro area in each state, the median household income in only 36 of these areas is higher than the respective statewide median income.
Many of these cities are home to several colleges, major universities, and research institutions. Because college students by definition do not have a college degree, student populations only raise the bachelor’s degree attainment rate by the portion that remains in the area after graduation — either for graduate programs or for work.
The Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program has studied the relationship between the presence of a university and a city’s economy. In a study published last year, economist Jonathan Rothwell cited the fact that 70% of students graduating from colleges in the New York City area remain in the region. The economic effects of Stanford on the San Jose area, or the University of Washington on the Seattle area, or MIT on the Boston region are similarly related to alumni remaining in these metros. Also, innovative companies that require highly educated workers are drawn to areas with these universities, and provide incentives for the college graduates to remain.
To identify the most educated cities in every state, 24/7 Wall St. ranked the percentages of metro area adults who have completed at least a bachelor’s degree in every state. The college attainment rate, along with poverty, income, and high school attainment rates, as well as the percentage of households receiving SNAP benefits for metro areas and for states all came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey. Shares of each metro’s workforce employed in particular industries came from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, a program published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of post-secondary institutions in each metropolitan area came from a list compiled by the U.S. Department of Education. Post-secondary institutions include four-year universities and colleges, as well as technical institutes and trade academies. The Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area, which spans the District of Columbia, Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia was excluded from our ranking.