With millions of Americans saddled with seemingly insurmountable levels of student debt, some are calling into question the practicality of obtaining a four-year college degree. Still, the share of Americans who have earned a bachelor’s degree rose last year. As of 2016, 31.3% of Americans age 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher — up from 30.6% the previous year and 29.1% in 2012.
Better educated populations tend to benefit from a range of positive socioeconomic outcomes. American adults with a bachelor’s degree generally earn higher incomes, are less susceptible to serious financial hardship, and are more desirable candidates for employers.
> Pct. of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34.0%
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders: $55,161 (9th highest)
> Median household income: $60,960 (16th highest)
> 2016 unemployment: 5.9% (6th highest)
Most states that are home to a larger than average share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree have relatively strong economies. Illinois is an exception. Some 34.0% of state residents 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree, more than the 31.3% share of American adults. Despite the higher skilled talent pool for employers across the state to draw from, 5.9% of Illinois’ workers are out of a job — one of the highest unemployment rates of any state and well above the 4.9% annual U.S. unemployment rate.
24/7 Wall St. ranked each state by the share of adults 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree. In the most educated state, 42.7% of adults have a four-year college degree, more than double the share of 20.8% in the least educated state.
Editor’s note: Due to a fact-checking error, Idaho was incorrectly referred to as Iowa in a previous version of this article. This error has been corrected.