Education levels are on the rise in the United States. According to newly released estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 79.9 million American adults – 35% of the nation’s 25 and older population – have a bachelor’s degree or higher. As recently as five years ago, fewer than 33% of American adults had a bachelor’s degree.
A college education has long been a key driver of upward economic mobility in the United States. However, enrollment costs at colleges and universities have soared in recent years, making a four-year postsecondary education prohibitively expensive for many working- and middle-class families.
Cost is not the only factor to consider before attending college. The chosen career path is another. For some business owners and those pursuing a career in the trades, the military, law enforcement, or public safety, a bachelor’s degree may not be necessary. Regardless of personal considerations, in some parts of the country, Americans are far less likely to have a four-year college degree than in others. (Here is a look at the highest paying jobs you can get without a college degree.)
In West Virginia, an estimated 24.1% of adults 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, below the 35% share nationwide and the lowest among all states.
Nationwide, median earnings among workers with a bachelor’s degree stood at $61,073 in 2021, compared to $35,019 among working adults with no more than a high school diploma. Due in part to lower-than-average bachelor’s degree attainment rates, the median earnings among all working adults in West Virginia is $39,449 a year, less than the comparable national median of $45,943.
All income and education data in this story is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey. Annual unemployment rates are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
|Rank||State||Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher (%)||Median annual earnings, all working adults, 2021 ($)||2021 unemployment rate (%)|