The report cards are in. Each year, WalletHub puts out its list of the least and most educated states in the entire country, ranking them according to 18 metrics that include factors like education quality, achievement gaps, and the well-educated population. So which schools passed and which failed? Check out this year’s rankings of which states are making the grades, and which ones are flunking.
25. LEAST: Mississippi (50th Place)
For anyone who follows education trends, it should come as no surprise that Mississippi found itself ranked in last place in 2020 as the least educated state in the nation. Why? Well, this state pretty much ranks in dead last place every single year when it comes to its school systems.
And to make matters worse, WalletHub also reported that Mississippi was in 50th place for its “quality of education” score. And that’s not just WalletHub’s assessment. The state received an F grade for academic achievement and a D for the chance of success for students from Education Week‘s Quality Counts report. That’s gotta hurt.
24. LEAST: West Virginia (49th Place)
WalletHub has had some bad news for West Virginia’s education system. Not only was this state ranked nearly in last place as one of the least educated states in the entire country, it was also ranked as one of the worst states for teachers.”This combination of job pressures, low pay, and lack of mobility forces many teachers to quit soon after they start,” West Virginia’s WBOY reported.
For West Virginia, the problems have been a long time coming. In 2012, 4 out of 5 of the state’s 8th grade students were found to be “not proficient” in math. But local education board members are urging patience. “Just realize these are just snapshots, and understand we are working hard to make changes in West Virginia,” one told reporters after WalletHub’s rankings were released.
23. LEAST: Louisiana (48th Place)
The grades are in for Louisiana’s school system, and things are definitely not looking great. This southern state has the 5th highest high school dropout rate, the worst math test scores, the 4th worst reading scores, and the 3rd worst ACT scores in the entire country.
But the most concerning score for this state comes when discussing safety, where it ranked in last place. The score takes into account aspects such as whether students chose not to go to school for safety reasons, including violence and bullying. In this metric, WalletHub found that Louisiana has the 3rd highest incidence rates of bullying in the United States.
22. LEAST: Arkansas (47th Place)
When it comes to Arkansas and its lacking education system, economists believe that this has a lot to do with another unfortunate ranking in the state. Arkansas has consistently been ranked as one of the poorest places in the country. And according to experts, poverty plays a huge role when it comes to a child’s education.
According to USA Today, “In Arkansas, only 47.7 percent of children live in families with income at least double the poverty level income, nearly the smallest share of any state in the country.” Throughout the country, nearly 50 percent of children live with one family member with a post-secondary degree. In Arkansas, meanwhile, that figure is only 39.3 percent.
21. LEAST: Alabama (46th Place)
In 2019, U.S. News and World Report ranked Alabama as 49th in its ranking of best to worst states to live in. And according to that report, much of the reason why Alabama was the second-worst state to live in had to do with its abysmal education system.
And as if those numbers were not already upsetting enough, WalletHub did not have much better news for the state in this year’s rankings. Beyond receiving 46th place in its ranking of most educated states in the country, Alabama ranked 43rd for reading scores, 42nd for student-teacher ratios, 42nd for quality of education, and 46th for school safety.
20. LEAST: Kentucky (45th Place)
When it comes to Kentucky, we can start with some good news. According to WalletHub, Kentucky does not experience as much of an education gap as the other schools that were given low rankings. In fact, there were no significant differences found in academic accomplishments between black and white adults over the age of 25, or between men and women in the state.
But here is the bad news. That lack of significant difference is mostly due to the fact that educational attainment is not particularly high for many residents of this state, regardless of race or gender. So we wouldn’t be celebrating if we were in Kentucky just yet.
19. LEAST: South Carolina (44th Place)
While 44th place might seem like a terrible ranking, it is actually much better than some of the other education-based rankings South Carolina has seen. In 2017, the U.S. News and World Report rated the Palmetto State as being the worst state in the nation when it came to education. In 2019, WalletHub ranked South Carolina to be the worst state for teachers.
When it comes to things like preschool enrollment, math test scores, reading test scores, college readiness, and two-year college graduation rates, South Carolina does not fare very well either. In almost all of those measurements, South Carolina ranks well below the national average.
18. LEAST: Nevada (43rd Place)
Of all of the least educated states in the country, most of the worst offenders can be found in the South. But the same is not true for the state that got 43rd place: Nevada. When it comes to this state’s education system, let’s just say we wouldn’t bet on it.
But this ranking is not exactly all negative. In previous years, Nevada has received terrible marks for its education system, and it even celebrated moving up one place (from worst in the country to second worst in the county) when Education Week released its yearly list. So 43rd place might not seem great, but it could mean that improvements are being made.
17. LEAST: New Mexico (42nd Place)
One could say that the state of New Mexico is used to seeing pretty bad numbers like this in terms of education. Beyond earning 42nd place and finding itself as one of the least educated states in the nation, WalletHub also found that New Mexico came in dead last as having the worst schools in the nation, too.
In 2019, Kids Count Data Book ranked New Mexico as the worst state in the entire U.S. to be a kid, mostly due to the state’s poor safety measures, health care, and education. The state was also ranked second-to-last for its public education system by Education Week.
16. LEAST: Tennessee (41st Place)
At 88.5 percent, Tennessee has the eighth-highest high school graduation rate in the country. So how did it end up on this list as one of the least educated states? Some analysts say the issue has to do with the fact that many do not make it to high school in the first place in order to graduate.
This might have to do with the lack of emphasis on early childhood education in the state. According to USA Today, “In Tennessee, only 37.8 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K, one of the smallest shares of any state and about 10 percentage points” below national rates.
15. LEAST: Oklahoma (40th Place)
Oklahoma’s education system has been struggling for years. The state has one of the lowest high school graduation rates, and one of the lowest percentages of residents who have earned their bachelor’s degree. But the big issue, according to economists? The state has some of the lowest spending on public education in the entire country.
The Economist phrased it pretty well when the magazine came out with the headline “What’s The Matter With Oklahoma?: Low teacher pay and severe budget cuts are driving schools to the brink”. In fact, Oklahoma public schools have faced some of the steepest budget cuts in the entire country. In 2008 alone, 28.2 percent of funding was slashed.
14. LEAST: Texas (39th Place)
Although Texas actually ranked pretty well in terms of quality of education — clocking in at number 15 on WalletHub‘s list — the Lone Star State still found itself placing 39th on the list of most educated states in the country. It turns out, the problem in this state is that quality education can be hard to come by.
Texas ranked 43rd in terms of just educational attainment. Only 40 percent of Texan children are raised by at least one parent with a college degree, placing them well below the 49.6 percent countrywide average. So for those who do not necessarily come from highly educated families, securing the quality education that WalletHub mentions might not exactly be within reach.
13. LEAST: Arizona (38th Place)
Arizona is home to one of the most diverse populations in the United States. And that very unique landscape presents its own very unique set of academic challenges for some students. According to USA Today, “In Arizona, only 79.4 percent of children are raised by parents who speak fluent English, one of the smallest shares of any state.”
Experts say that this could greatly contribute to the state’s notoriously low graduation rates, which stand as the 8th lowest in the country. This is one of the many reasons why education reform activists in the state have been pushing for more programs aimed specifically at students who do not speak English as their first language.
NEXT: Let’s see which states WalletHub found to be the most well-educated places in the country.
12. MOST: Illinois (12th Place)
With the more disturbing statistics out of the way, let’s get to some of the most well-educated states in the nation. Coming in at 12th place is Illinois. One of the many reasons why Illinois secured this enviable spot might be because this state invests heavily in early childhood education, both in dollars and in attendance.
Perhaps it is because plenty of children in this state come from families who have earned a higher education, but Illinois holds one of the top spots when it comes to children who are enrolled in pre-K. About 55.8 percent of 3 to 4-year-olds attend pre-K, well above the national average of 47.7 percent.
11. MOST: Utah (11th Place)
The buzz around the Beehive State is that after placing 9th in the nation just one year before, it just narrowly missed out on being ranked one of the top ten most educated states in the United States in 2020. But in both years, Utah can happily boast that it received some of the highest scores in terms of educational attainment gaps (well, lack thereof).
But here are some more numbers that the state of Utah can be proud of. It ranked 3rd in average university quality, 2nd in terms of percentage of associate’s degree holders or college-experienced adults, and 10th in terms of the percentage of residents with a high school diploma.
10. MOST: Minnesota (10th Place)
The truth about education in any given state is that unfortunately, the metrics have a lot to do with statewide average income. For some of the states on the list of least educated, plenty of residents struggle to make ends meet. In Minnesota, the opposite is true. And experts say that’s partially why Minnesota found itself in 10th place on this list.
In Minnesota, 69.4 percent of children live in households where the income is at least double the national poverty level. That’s one of the highest percentages out of any state in the nation. This means that public schools in the state are not only well-funded; they yield some of the country’s best standardized testing scores.
9. MOST: New Jersey (9th Place)
The state of New Jersey got some good news when they were deemed the 9th most well-educated state in the country. And it got some even better news when WalletHub also announced that New Jersey had the best score when it came to education gaps between male and female residents.
But the statistics also came with some bad news: that New Jersey will need to step up its game in the future if it has any hopes of climbing through the ranks. New Jersey ranked 34th when it came to racial gaps in educational attainment. And when it came to university quality, WalletHub found that the state ranked in only 25th place.
8. MOST: New Hampshire (8th Place)
The Granite State managed to stay in the top ten, but has moved down one spot since 2019, when it was ranked in 7th place. According to analysts, New Hampshire has one of the smallest educational attainment gaps in the country, coming in at 5th place in that specific metric.
But when it comes to the quality of education that students are receiving in the state, while it might look the same across the board, it ranked only 20th place. However, it seems like the education quality is not stopping New Hampshire’s residents from attending school. This state has the second highest amount of high school diploma holders in the country.
7. MOST: Washington (7th Place)
Washington state has officially been deemed by WalletHub as the most educated state on the West Coast. According to their metrics, there are plenty of well-educated men and women in the Pacific Northwest, as the state has one of the smallest gender gaps when it comes to receiving a quality education.
The state also came in 16th for its number of high school diploma holders, and 3rd when measuring the percentage of adults with at least an associate’s degree. Washington was 11th in terms of those with a bachelor’s degree, and 13th in terms of graduate degree holders. All of this was enough to boost the state from 10th place in 2019, to 7th place in 2020.
6. MOST: Virginia (6th Place)
Unlike many of its southern counterparts on this list, Virginia stands out as having some of the best school systems not just in the South, but in the nation. And these well-regarded school systems also mean that students who attend the state’s schools are more likely to perform better on proficiency testing than the national average.
Students in Virginia also consistently outperform their nationwide counterparts in AP testing. But, according to WalletHub, factors outside of the classroom play a large role as well — such as household income. And Virginia just so happens to have one of the highest average household incomes in the country.
5. MOST: Connecticut (5th Place)
Now for the top five most educated states in the country. Just making it into this prized category is the state of Connecticut. And one of the many reasons why The Constitution State finds itself placed so high on this list is because the residents of this state take education seriously, even from a very young age.
On average, 47.7 percent of all American children attend preschool from ages 3 to 4. But in Connecticut, that percentage is all the way up to 65.6 percent. And by kindergarten, 80.7 percent of all kindergarten-aged children are enrolled, the third highest level of enrollment in the United States.
4. MOST: Vermont (4th Place)
How did Vermont end up placing 4th on this list? Well, that probably has a lot to do with the massive way they invest in their state’s education system. According to USA Today, the state spends an average of $20,795 per pupil, including expenses related to school staffing, supplies, and support for students. That’s the highest per-pupil spending in the entire country.
All of that spending has helped boost Vermont’s ranking as having some of the absolute best schools in the country. And while Vermont, like every other state, has experienced education attainment gaps between high-income and low-income students, this state’s statistics show one of the smallest gaps.
3. MOST: Colorado (3rd Place)
When WalletHub‘s annual rankings were released, The Denver Post proudly displayed the headline “Colorado Wields Most Brain Power West of Mississippi, Ranking Says”. And the paper had a good reason to be celebrating. Colorado received the bronze medal as having one of the most highly educated populations in the United States.
Colorado was also found to rank 14th in terms of the number of residents who have a high school diploma. It was also awarded 8th place for the percentage of Coloradans who have a graduate or professional-level degree. “Though living in a state with such natural beauty doesn’t require genius-level thinking, it seems that Colorado both grows and attracts some pretty smart folks,” The Denver Post said.
2. MOST: Maryland (2nd Place)
Maryland was awarded runner-up as one of the most well-educated places in the United States. The state also ranked second for the percentage of residents with advanced degrees, and placed third for the amount of Marylanders with bachelor’s degrees. And analysts say that this probably has a lot to do with Maryland residents’ higher-than-average annual income.
Maryland is known to be the state with the highest median income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. All of that income means that Marylanders pay a lot in taxes. And this state has been pretty good about shuffling a lot of those tax dollars into its public school system. While, on average, states spend 3.3 percent of taxes on education, Maryland spends 3.7 percent.
1. MOST: Massachusetts (1st Place)
It’s official. The most well-educated state in the entire nation is Massachusetts. And according to WalletHub‘s metrics, the Bay State won by a landslide, finishing well above any of the other states in the top 10. But it really is no surprise that the home state of MIT and Harvard was awarded the top prize.
Massachusetts was given a boost by leading every other state in terms of percentage of bachelor’s degree holders and graduate or professional degree holders. The state also ranked second for quality of universities, coming in just behind California. Massachusetts also led in chances of success, school finance, and school achievements.
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