West Virginia Ranks Among the Least Educated States in the Country

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 (%)
1 West Virginia 24.1 39,449 5.0
2 Mississippi 24.8 37,148 5.6
3 Arkansas 25.3 37,936 4.0
4 Louisiana 26.4 40,562 5.5
5 Kentucky 27.0 40,448 4.7
6 Alabama 27.4 40,362 3.4
7 Nevada 27.6 41,237 7.2
8 Oklahoma 27.9 40,163 3.8
9 Indiana 28.9 42,955 3.6
10 Wyoming 29.2 41,898 4.5
11 New Mexico 30.1 39,826 6.8
12 Tennessee 30.5 41,181 4.3
13 Iowa 30.5 44,644 4.2
14 Idaho 30.7 40,800 3.6
15 Ohio 30.7 43,794 5.1

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