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Least Educated States 2021

About 90% of the United States population has a high school diploma and about 34% have a Bachelor’s degree. Education is extremely important and the United States spends more on education than any other country in the world. The national education budget was about $1.3 trillion in 2016-2017.

Education is the best way for people to decrease their likelihood of unemployment, increase their earning potential, and achieve their career goals. According to the Global Partnership for Education, education not only helps individuals but nations as a whole as it promotes peace, boosts economic growth, decreases poverty, and promotes gender equality. Education is essential for achieving the Global Partnership for Education’s 17 Global Goals.

The levels and amount of education vary between states. The state governments set standards for education and mandate education over a specific age range starting between ages five and eight years up until between 16 and 18 years. State governments also mandate and control standardized testing. The percentage of high school diploma holders and college degree holders varies greatly between all 50 states depending on the quality of education in each state and the state’s requirements for high school completion.

The percentage of adults with a high school diploma can be used to determine the least educated states in the United States. This number does not correlate with the percentage of those with Bachelor’s degrees or higher. For example, California has the lowest percentage of adults with at least a high school diploma; however, it has the 14th-highest percentage of people with a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

1. California

California is the least educated state in the United States. Only 82.90% of adults have a high school diploma or higher. According to U.S. News & World Report, California had 52 schools with 100% graduation rates in 2018. Despite having the lowest high school diploma rate, California ranks first in the country for its average university quality.

2. Texas

Texas has the second-lowest rate of high school diploma holders in the United States of 83.20%. In 2018, Texas reported over 260 high schools having 100% graduation rates, the most of any state. While this is the highest of any state, this is a relatively small percentage of Texas schools, considering the size of the state. If the trend continues upward, Texas’s high school diploma rate will continue to increase. Additionally, Texas has two high schools in U.S. News & World Report’s Best High Schools 2020 rankings top ten high schools: The School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas and Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School in Dallas.

3. Mississippi

Mississippi is the third-least educated state in the U.S. with a high school diploma holder rate of 83.90%. Additionally, only 21.80% of Mississippi adults have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, the second-lowest rate in the country behind West Virginia. Mississippi also ranks second-to-last for its average university quality.

4. Louisiana

Louisiana’s rate of high school diploma holders is 84.80%, the fourth-lowest in the country. Louisiana’s rate of Bachelor degree holders or higher is 23.70%, the fifth-lowest in the country.

5. New Mexico

New Mexico is the fifth-least educated state. New Mexico’s rate of high school diploma holders is 85.30%. The state’s rate of Bachelor’s degree holders (or higher) is also relatively low at 27.10%, the 13th-lowest in the United States. According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 report on graduation rates, New Mexico reported the lowest average graduation rate for 2018 of just 74%.

6. Kentucky

Kentucky’s high school diploma rate is 85.70% and its rate of Bachelor’s degree holders (or higher) is 23.60%. Kentucky has the fourth-lowest rate of Bachelor’s degree holders in the United States. Of Kentucky’s 2018 high school graduating classes, the state graduated an average of 94% of its student, one of the highest averages in the U.S. Should the high graduation rates continue in the coming years, Kentucky’s diploma rate will increase significantly.

7. Alabama

Alabama is the seventh-least educated state based on its rate of high school diploma holders. Alabama’s rate of high school diploma holders is 85.80%, just above Kentucky’s. Of the 2018 high school graduating classes, Alabama reported zero high schools that successfully graduated 100% of their classes. Additionally, Alabama’s percentage of Bachelor degree holders is the seventh-lowest in the U.S. at 24.90%.

8. Arkansas

Arkansas’s rate of high school diploma holders is 86.20%, making it the eighth-least educated state in the U.S. Arkansas also has the third-lowest percentage of Bachelor’s degree holders in the country at 22.60% and the fifth-lowest average university quality among states.

9. Nevada

Nevada is the ninth-least educated state with a high school diploma rate of 86.30%. According to U.S. News & World Report, only 14 Nevada high schools reported 100% graduation rates for 2018. Additionally, Nevada’s rate of Bachelor degree holders is relatively low, the sixth-lowest in U.S., at 24.20%.

10. West Virginia

West Virginia has the tenth-lowest percentage of high school diploma holders at 86.50%. West Virginia is tied with New York for this statistic, however, New York’s rate of Bachelor’s degree holders is 35.90% and West Virginia’s is 20.30%, the lowest rate in the country. This edges New York out of the top ten list of the least educated states. Only 2 West Virginia high schools reported a graduation rate of 100% for 2018.

Here are the 10 states with the lowest High School graduation rates:

  1. Montana (94.00%)
  2. Alaska (93.00%)
  3. Maine (93.00%)
  4. Minnesota (93.00%)
  5. New Hampshire (93.00%)
  6. North Dakota (93.00%)
  7. Vermont (93.00%)
  8. Wyoming (93.00%)
  9. Colorado (92.00%)
  10. Hawaii (92.00%)

Least Educated States 2021


Least Educated States 2021

State High School or Higher Bachelors or Higher
New Mexico86.00%27.00%
New York87.00%37.00%
West Virginia87.00%21.00%
North Carolina88.00%31.00%
South Carolina88.00%28.00%
Rhode Island89.00%34.00%
New Jersey90.00%40.00%
South Dakota92.00%29.00%
New Hampshire93.00%37.00%
North Dakota93.00%30.00%

Least Educated States 2021