Ranking American States Based on Education Excellence

This article was originally published on DrGraduate

In a big country like the USA, it’s no surprise that education levels differ from state to state. Some places have lots of people with advanced degrees, while others have fewer with just high school diplomas. Figuring out education isn’t just about counting degrees – it’s more complicated. We can look at various factors to figure out which states have the best or not-so-great education excellence. So, whether you’re just curious or picking a place to live, this list is for you.

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50 – Mississippi: The Education Challenge

Would you have guessed that Mississippi takes the bottom spot as the least educated state in the US? Known more for tricky spelling and timekeeping, Mississippi has a new claim to fame: the lowest education excellence ranking. With an overall grade of “D” for student success, the difficulty of spelling the state’s name might be just the beginning of the challenge.

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49 – West Virginia: Struggles in the Mountains

Surprisingly, West Virginia holds the second-to-last spot in US education excellence rankings. Both students and teachers face hardships in the Mountain State. Teachers grapple with low pay, stressful jobs, and transportation struggles, impacting students across the state. While the government claims to address these issues, progress is slow, and the education system continues to face challenges.

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48 – Louisiana: Education and Safety Concerns

Louisiana not only ranks 48th in education but also claims the top spot for having the most dangerous schools. Safety takes a backseat in Louisiana, with high rates of bullying and violence affecting students’ ability to focus on learning. Low math and reading scores further highlight the need for improvements in the state’s education system.

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47 – Arkansas: Poverty’s Impact on Education

Arkansas’s low education excellence ranking is directly tied to income and prevalent poverty. As one of the poorest states, the average income influences the overall education system. Not only does the income issue persist, but a majority of children in Arkansas lack parents with university or college degrees, compounding the educational challenges.

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46 – Alabama: Struggling in the Heart of Dixie

Despite its historical significance, Alabama is currently the 46th worst state for education. This ranking is mirrored in its overall status as the 49th worst state to live in. Contributing factors include low school safety, reading scores, and student-to-teacher ratios, making education quality one of the lowest in the nation.

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45 – Kentucky: Education Equality with a Silver Lining

Kentucky claims the 45th spot on the list of least educated states. Despite the ranking, there’s a silver lining – unlike many other states, Kentucky shows minimal disparities in education levels among different segments of society. Adults over 25, regardless of gender or race, generally share similar, albeit low, levels of education.

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44 – South Carolina: Making Strides in Education

Surprisingly, being the 44th least educated state in the US is a positive turn for South Carolina. Just a few years ago, they held the unfortunate title of the worst state for education. This upward movement in the rankings is a commendable achievement for South Carolina, reflecting their hard work and dedication to improving overall education. Kudos to South Carolina for the progress!

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43 – Nevada: Slowly Climbing Up

Breaking the trend of Southern states in the bottom ten, Nevada secures the 43rd spot as the least educated state in the US. Similar to South Carolina, Nevada has made progress, having previously lingered near the bottom of the list. While challenges persist, it’s encouraging to see improvement. Some speculate that the focus on Las Vegas’s casinos and entertainment may divert attention from enhancing the education system.

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42 – New Mexico: Struggling Across the Board

New Mexico claims the 42nd spot among the least educated states, and this might not come as a surprise given its low rankings in various areas, including safety and healthcare. Education is not the sole area facing challenges, as the state grapples with across-the-board low rankings. Despite holding the 42nd place, New Mexico’s schools are notably regarded as among the worst in the country.

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41 – Tennessee: Graduation Paradox

Tennessee stands at the 41st position on the least educated states list, revealing an interesting paradox. Despite its low overall ranking, Tennessee boasts one of the country’s highest graduation rates, reaching the top 10 at 88.5%. The irony lies in the fact that many kids don’t make it to high school, making those who do more likely to graduate. This situation calls for efforts to increase high school attendance.

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40 – Oklahoma: Struggling with Education Funding

Oklahoma, where the “wind comes sweepin’ down the plain,” faces educational challenges. The state’s funding situation contributes to low high school graduation rates and bachelor’s degree attainment. In 2008, education funding was slashed by over 28%, a significant cut. Combined with low teacher salaries, these factors exacerbate the struggles faced by schools dealing with general budget cuts.

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39 – Texas: Education Quality vs. Enrollment Challenge

Texas might be in the top 15 for education quality, but it takes the 39th spot for the most educated states. Even with great schools and services, it seems people aren’t fully utilizing them. Unlike other states facing safety or low pay issues, Texas’s low overall educated population doesn’t have an apparent cause. Experts suggest it could be a lack of proper access to the schooling systems, making the reasons less clear.

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38 – Arizona: Diversity Poses Graduation Challenges

Ranked 38th in education, Arizona stands out as 8th in states with the lowest graduation rates. The primary reason behind Arizona’s low education rates is language diversity. With one of the most diverse populations, many children in Arizona have parents who don’t speak fluent English. This language barrier hampers children’s ability to thrive in predominantly English education systems. Implementing language assistance programs could make a significant difference.

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37 – Indiana: Mixed Education Systems

While Indiana offers decent higher education and high school systems, early education for young people falls short, ranking at 37th. Though not the worst, it underscores the importance of early education. Indiana holds the unfortunate title of being the worst state for early education, emphasizing the potential long-term impacts on children without access to quality early education.

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36 – Idaho: Funding Woes Impact Education

Following in the footsteps of Oklahoma, Idaho faces education funding challenges, ranking low among educated states. With severe funding shortages, Idaho becomes a less favorable state for students, receiving the least support from the state. In 2017, Idaho spent the least amount of money on its school system, resulting in the 14th worst-ranked school in the US.

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35 – South Dakota: Degrees and Dropouts Dilemma

South Dakota presents a puzzling situation, boasting a high percentage of residents with college degrees (39%). Surprisingly, it ranks 35th among the least educated states. The paradox arises from the fact that South Dakotans tend to leave the state after obtaining their degrees, seeking work elsewhere. Despite high degrees within the state, South Dakota grapples with a substantial dropout rate of 16.3%, showcasing the complexity of its education landscape.

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34 – Georgia: Mixed Bag of Education Metrics

Georgia finds itself low on the education list, ranking poorly across various categories. Education quality sits at 39th place, while residents’ educational attainment is at 33rd. A slight positive note is the decent safety in their school systems. Notably, Georgia stands out positively in 18th place for addressing education disparities in low-income areas.

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33 – Ohio: Incremental Improvements

Ohio may be 33rd on the list of educated states, but there’s a reason for celebration—it’s a two-place improvement from the previous year. Climbing the education ladder is no easy feat, and Ohio deserves kudos for the progress. They land at 25th for overall education quality, placing them squarely in the middle of the country. The lower overall ranking is attributed to limited access to education.


32 – California: Economic Giant with Education Challenges

While California leads in economic prowess and population size, its education ranking at 32nd is not as stellar. Despite having the strongest economy among all states, California’s education levels are not significantly different from its large-scale counterpart, Texas. However, California has been investing heavily in its education system, making it worth monitoring for potential improvements in its ranking.

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17 – Delaware: Defying Budget Odds for Education Excellence

Shifting focus to positive news, Delaware kicks off the list of most educated states at 17th place. Despite a relatively small education budget—only around 3% allocated to schooling—they achieve a high ranking. Delaware’s budget is almost a whole percent less than the average of other states, making their impressive education levels stand out.

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16 – Wyoming: Education Progress in the Forgotten State

Often overlooked, Wyoming surprises with a 16th-place ranking in education excellence in the US, showing consistent improvement. The state’s education system stands even higher at 10th place in the country. Notably, Wyoming is recognized as one of the safest places for schooling in the nation, contributing to its positive overall ranking.

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15 – Hawaii: Unexpected Education Excellence

At number 15 on the list, Hawaii may not be the first place that comes to mind for exceptional education. Known more for its stunning landscapes, Hawaii boasts impressive schooling. With 62.6% of adults aged 25 and over having attended college, Hawaii defies expectations. Despite being the 13th poorest state in the US, Hawaii’s high level of education excellence is truly remarkable.

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14 – Oregon: Tech Influence on Education

Oregon secures the 14th spot on the list, thanks in part to its good school system and education. The state also benefits from big high-tech companies that attract highly educated individuals. While not everyone living there may be educated, the influx of knowledgeable people boosts the overall numbers. Oregon stands out with one of the highest percentages of people holding college degrees in the country.

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13 – New York: Big Apple’s Education Fame

No surprise, New York clinches a spot among the most educated states. With the second-best university ratings in the country, it’s logical that general education systems rank high. Most highly educated residents are concentrated in New York City. Interestingly, New York didn’t make the top 20, which might be unexpected considering its overall influence on the state and the nation.

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12 – Illinois: Early Education Impact

Illinois earns a high rank in educated states, credited to a significant number of children attending early education and pre-K classes. The state’s above-average early education attendance, coupled with high-quality schools, positively influences the overall ranking. Many families in Illinois boast adults with degrees, increasing the likelihood of their children pursuing higher education.

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11 – Utah: Surprising Education Excellence

Despite being an often-overlooked state, Utah secures the 11th position due to its third-highest quality of universities and the second-highest number of degree holders in the country. Despite a drop from 9th place, Utah’s education story remains impressive, challenging preconceptions about the state’s educational standing.

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10 – Minnesota: Budgeting for Education Success

Breaking into the top 10, Minnesota showcases effective budgeting and prioritization of education despite being one of the poorer states. Well-funded public schools contribute to a high level of education statewide, proving that financial constraints don’t hinder Minnesota from maintaining a robust school system.

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9 – New Jersey: Mixed Education Metrics

New Jersey claims the 9th spot on the nationwide list, overcoming disturbing statistics in areas like education gaps based on different races (34th place) and lower university quality rankings. While it may not top the charts in all aspects, New Jersey stands as a good place for primary education, although higher education seekers might consider other states.

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8 – New Hampshire: Balancing Education Factors

Securing the 8th place, New Hampshire navigates a mixed bag of education factors. The state excels in education equality and boasts one of the smallest attainment gaps in the country. However, the quality of education is ranked 20th. On a positive note, New Hampshire proudly holds the second-highest percentage of high school diploma holders in the country.

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7 – Washington: Where Education and Happiness Meet

It’s no surprise that Washington, also known as one of the happiest states, claims the 7th spot among the most educated states. Ranking third in the country for adults with degrees and high school graduates, Washington shines. Impressively, they also have one of the smallest gaps in educational attainment between men and women.

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6 – Virginia: Breaking Geographic Norms

Virginia stands out geographically as a clear exception in the list of educated states, making it to the impressive 6th place. A noteworthy achievement, especially considering the trend of southern states ranking lower. Virginia takes pride in high test scores, likely influenced by its status as one of the wealthiest states, benefiting from additional funding.

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5 – Connecticut: Early Education Excellence

As we delve into the top 5, Connecticut starts the list with a high percentage of children attending school from an early age, contributing to its overall high rating. Nearly 66% of children attend preschool, significantly surpassing the national average by 16%. This reflects positively on kindergarten enrollment levels as well.

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4 – Vermont: Northeastern Prosperity in Education

Continuing the dominance of northeastern states, Vermont secures the 4th spot. The region’s wealth plays a role, with Vermont leading the nation in per-student spending. This investment translates into a remarkable school system and educational opportunities for individuals across all income levels.

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3 – Colorado: Nature’s Influence on Education

Colorado breaks the trend of northeastern states in the top 5, claiming the 3rd spot for the most educated state. The state’s natural beauty, mountains, and scenic landscapes provide an appealing backdrop for education. Perhaps the extraordinary surroundings inspire the creation of excellent school systems.

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2 – Maryland: Silver in Education

Maryland earns the silver medal among the most educated states, showcasing high rankings across various categories. With the second-highest percentage of people holding degrees in the country, Maryland’s success is closely tied to its residents’ average income, the highest in the nation. Wealth contributes to opportunities for continuous improvement in the school system.

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1 – Massachusetts: Leading the Education Chart

In a predictable outcome, Massachusetts clinches the top spot as the most educated state. Home to renowned universities like Harvard and MIT, Massachusetts residents are highly educated, reflecting the state’s serious commitment to education. Outranking others by a significant margin, Massachusetts leads in almost all ranking categories, emphasizing its educational excellence.

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