Over the past decade, Americans have become more educated. The rate of residents receiving a high school diploma or GED is on an upward trend.
In 2011, 28% of Americans had not graduated high school or received a GED – the same percentage that had received a bachelor’s degree or higher. As of 2021, 35% of Americans have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 26% of Americans without a high school diploma or GED.
Data from the US Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey collects information on maximum educational attainment by age group, location and gender. The data used here highlights the maximum educational attainment of the population 25 and older.
Washington, DC is continuously ranked as the most educated region in the country, with 63% of the population receiving a bachelor's degree or higher as of 2021. Massachusetts followed closely with 47% of the population obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher. Washington, DC is home to 19 four-year colleges/universities, and Boston, the largest city in Massachusetts, is home to 22 four-year colleges/universities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
More people are pursuing higher education and graduating from universities/colleges. The percent of people receiving a graduate or professional degree has increased by 3.4 percentage points over the last decade and increased by nearly the same amount for people receiving a bachelor's degree during that same time.
About 14% of Americans 25 and older hold a graduate or professional degree, or 31.4 million people. Washington, DC residents were more likely to hold a graduate degree as their highest educational attainment (37.8%) than fall under one of the following categories: Completed some college without a degree, completed some high school without a degree, or graduated high school/ received a GED. These categories combined make up 33.7% of Washington, DC residents.
Massachusetts, Maryland, and Connecticut follow behind Washington, DC in largest share of residents with graduate or professional degrees.
Almost 60 million American’s highest educational attainment was their high school diploma/ GED. West Virginia had the largest share of high school graduates as their maximum educational attainment level (39%), followed by Arkansas (34%), as of 2021.
About 16% of Californians never graduated high school nor received a GED — the highest rate of any state. Texas followed with 15.4% of residents never receiving a high school diploma or its equivalent.
Washington, DC had the highest rate of residents receiving a bachelor's degree or higher at 63%. Massachusetts followed with 47% of residents obtaining a bachelor's degree or higher.
West Virginia had the lowest rate of residents receiving a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree at 24%, as of 2021, followed by Louisiana at 26%. New Orleans, the largest city in Louisiana, is home to 11 four-year colleges. Charleston, the largest city in West Virginia, is home to one four-year college, according to NCES College database.
Utah and Wyoming tie for largest share of the population that attended some college but did not graduate at 24.7%.
Washington, DC had the largest increase in the share of people receiving their bachelor's degrees or higher between 2010 and 2021, with a 12.9-percentage point increase. Vermont and Maine followed with a 10.8 and 9.2 percentage point increase, respectively. North Dakota experienced the smallest increase in percent of people obtaining bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees, with a 4.1 percentage point bump.
Tennessee and Kentucky experienced the largest increase in people receiving a high school diploma or GED as their maximum educational attainment. The percentage of residents who did not graduate from high school or receive a GED dropped 6 percentage points between 2010 and 2021.
To learn more about educational attainment in the US, see the education section of USAFacts’ State of The Union.
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