With millions of Americans saddled with seemingly insurmountable levels of student debt, some are calling into question the practicality of obtaining a four-year college degree. Still, the share of Americans who have earned a bachelor’s degree rose last year. As of 2016, 31.3% of Americans age 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher — up from 30.6% the previous year and 29.1% in 2012.
Better educated populations tend to benefit from a range of positive socioeconomic outcomes. American adults with a bachelor’s degree generally earn higher incomes, are less susceptible to serious financial hardship, and are more desirable candidates for employers.
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 23.4%
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders: $47,610 (24th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,659 (6th lowest)
> 2016 unemployment: 5.0% (18th highest)
A college education is one of the most practical ways for an individual to increase their earning potential. In Kentucky, the bachelor’s degree attainment rate of 23.4% is nearly the lowest in the nation and far below the 31.3% national rate. Partially as a result, a relatively large share of state residents are poor. The typical household in the state earns only $46,659 a year, over $10,000 below the income the typical American household earns. Additionally, 18.5% of state residents live in poverty, a higher poverty rate than in all but three other states.
24/7 Wall St. ranked each state by the share of adults 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree. In the most educated state, 42.7% of adults have a four-year college degree, more than double the share of 20.8% in the least educated state.
Editor’s note: Due to a fact-checking error, Idaho was incorrectly referred to as Iowa in a previous version of this article. This error has been corrected.