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Most and Least Educated Cities in America

Joel Anderson

Plenty of people — many of whom might just be trying to rationalize their high-priced college education — make the mistake of confusing one’s level of education with a level of intelligence. After all, Jimi Hendrix never learned to read music, and mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan famously made groundbreaking discoveries in his field without ever obtaining any formal schooling in the subject. However, that does nothing to diminish the value of a great education — in your career and your life.

That’s part of why GOBankingRates conducted a study to identify the most and least educated cities in America. If you’re a young parent, few things matter as much as the quality of the local school system. You want the sort of school system that can challenge your kid and help them discover their true potential — and how to achieve it. And while it’s not a perfect correlation, there’s a lot that can be inferred about area schools by looking at the average education level in the city.

Most Educated Cities

To identify the most educated cities, GOBankingRates took a number of metrics available through the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey — namely percentages of the local population ages 18-24 and 25 and older with less than a high school degree, a high school degree or its equivalent, some college or an associate degree, and a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Please note that each slide only contains data points for the 25 and older demographic. It allows for a clearer comparison of the numbers as they’re all from the same age group, and it accounts for the fact that many people will not have necessarily completed their education before their mid-20s.

25. Boise, Idaho


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 20.7%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 32.8%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 40.9%

Only 5.6% of Idahoans living in Boise over the age of 25 stopped short of completing high school, while over two in five have gotten their bachelor’s degree.

24. Overland Park, Kansas


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 11.8%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 25%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 60.1%

Overland Park has the second-lowest percentage of adults 25 and older who didn’t get a high school diploma or its equivalent at a mere 3.2%. Pair that with the 60.1% with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and Overland Park would appear to be one place that challenges students to reach for more.

23. Clarksville, Tennessee


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 28.2%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 38.4%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 25.4%

Clarksville is the study-wide leader for the percentage of those 25 and older with some college or an associate degree and has low levels of adults who haven’t completed high school.

22. Murfreesboro, Tennessee


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 22.8%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 29.5%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 40.2%

Murfreesboro has an unusually high rate of people who didn’t continue their formal education after high school for landing so high on this list. But, nearly 70% of the population 25 and older completed at least some college.

21. Fargo, North Dakota


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 20.3%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 34.7%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 38.8%

Fargo might be most famous for the eponymous Coen brothers’ film, but perhaps it needs to be recognized for its high rate of people 25 or older with some college education or an associate degree.

20. Columbia, Missouri


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 16.9%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 23.9%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 53.4%

Even in the 18-24 age demographic, only 2.6% of the residents in Columbia haven’t graduated from high school. Interestingly, though, that number more than doubles by age 25, indicating what could be an influx of adults without a high school diploma or its equivalent at some point after they turn 25.

19. Carlsbad, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 10.7%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 26.8%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 58.1%

Carlsbad is among the older, smaller cities in this study. It has the lowest population of people age 18 to 24 of any city listed here. Only 4.4% of residents here age 25 and older didn’t complete high school.

18. Sandy Springs, Georgia


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 13.8%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 19.3%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 61.2%

Just under 6% of those 25 and older living in Sandy Springs haven’t completed high school, among the lower rates recorded in the study.

17. Bellevue, Washington


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 10.2%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 19.3%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 65.5%

An impressive two-thirds of adults 25 and older in Bellevue have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and just a little over one in 10 above the age of 25 opted to finish their formal education with high school.

16. Fremont, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 17.6%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 20.7%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 55.2%

Sitting just north of San Jose, Fremont’s high level of people with a bachelor’s degree or greater are likely a result of plenty of tech workers looking to live in Silicon Valley.

15. San Francisco, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 12.3%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 19.8%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 55.8%

You can bet that San Francisco’s thriving startup culture is playing a major role in its high rate of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree.

14. Sunnyvale, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 11.5%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 17.9%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 62.6%

Completing a trilogy of Bay Area cities, Sunnyvale could not be better situated to attract college-educated residents. It’s immediately north of Cupertino, home to Apple’s headquarters; immediately east of Mountain View, where Google’s main office is located; and just one city over from Palo Alto, home to the famed Stanford University.

13. Columbia, Maryland


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 12.1%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 20.4%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 63.2%

This is the second Columbia in the study and, spoiler alert, also the highest-ranked. It’s the third-smallest city in the study but packs a punch with 95.7% of its residents over the age of 25 holding a high school diploma or its equivalent.

12. Santa Clara, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 13.9%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 21.1%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 57%

Sunny Santa Clara, California, lands a good way up the best list, not by standing out in any one category, but by scoring above-average in half of them.

11. Boulder, Colorado


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 7.1%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 15.6%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 73.8%

Home to the University of Colorado, this college town ensconced in the Rockies boasts a 25 and older age group where almost three in four have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

10. Seattle, Washington


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 10.1%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 22.5%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 61.6%

Seattle is the second-largest city in this study, and it seems a safe bet that being the home base for companies like Amazon and Microsoft has helped boost the average education level in the burg. Almost two-thirds of people 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or better.

9. Fort Collins, Colorado


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 15.2%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 27.5%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 53.6%

Just 3.5% of Fort Collins residents haven’t graduated high school or gotten their GED diploma, one of the cities with the lowest proportion in that regard.

8. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 26.7%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 23.4%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 41.9%

The Steel City has an unusually high percentage of residents 25 and older who stopped at high school for a city included among the best. But, regardless, it is also home to a lot of educated people.

7. Irvine, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 8.3%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 20.2%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 67.5%

Sitting south of Los Angeles, 96% of Irvine’s 25 and older population continued with their formal schooling after high school. That also means that the portion of those 25 and older who haven’t finished high school is a scant 4%.

6. Naperville, Illinois


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 10.8%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 19.4%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 66.8%

Naperville’s population is largely college-educated, with about two-thirds of residents having a bachelor’s degree or higher.

5. Berkeley, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 6.8%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 17.1%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 72.3%

Berkeley is among the cities with the highest percentage of adults who have at least a bachelor’s degree. At over 70%, it’s among the five highest rates in the study.

4. Madison, Wisconsin


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 14.1%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 24.2%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 57.1%

For landing in the top five, Madison “only” has 57.1% of residents 25 and older with a four-year degree — a good rate but certainly lower than the other cities ranked this high. But, the city makes it back with very low rates of people who haven’t completed high school or its equivalent.

3. Ann Arbor, Michigan


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 7.4%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 15.3%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 74.2%

Nearly three-quarters of the 25 and older population in Ann Arbor has at least a bachelor’s degree — the second-highest rate in the study.

2. Cambridge, Massachusetts


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 8.9%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 9.3%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 76.4%

Cambridge has both the highest percentage of people 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree as well as the lowest percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who haven’t completed high school.

1. Arlington, Virginia


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 8%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 11.8%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 74.1%

Arlington is the most educated city in America, with the third-highest percentage of residents 25 and older holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. In addition, it had far and away the highest percentage of inhabitants age 18-24 with at least a bachelor’s degree at a whopping 52.7%, the highest rate in the study.

Least Educated Cities

The methodology for the least educated cities is just the inverse of that for the most educated, using the same data set and methodology but focusing on the lowest-scoring cities.

25. Jurupa Valley, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 29.4%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 29.4%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 11.7%

Jurupa Valley has just over two in five residents in the 18-24 age group who completed high school but haven’t pursued any sort of college education — the second-highest rate in this study. As for those 25 and older, only 11.7% have completed at least a bachelor’s degree — one of the lowest rates in the study.

24. Aurora, Illinois


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 20.2%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 24.9%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 31.3%

About a third of residents over 25 in Aurora have a bachelor’s degree or better, which is actually the highest rate of any of the cities among the least educated in America.

23. Stockton, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 26.2%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 31.6%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 17.4%

The 31.4% of Stockton inhabitants who have some college or an associate degree is actually among the higher rates in the study, but with just 17.4% of the city’s adults holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, that could have more to do with people dropping out or opting for trade schools.

22. Lehigh Acres, Florida


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 36.2%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 28.3%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 13.5%

The 36.2% of adults over the age of 25 in Lehigh Acres who stopped their formal schooling with high school represents the highest such rate on this list.

21. Fresno, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 22.4%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 32.8%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 20.9%

Fresno is the third-largest city in the study and the largest among the least educated by far. It’s lower on this list, though, because of the high rate of those 25 and older with some college or an associate degree, coupled with a higher rate of college graduates.

20. Pomona, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 24.7%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 26.2%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 17.7%

Almost a third of adults over 25 in Pomona haven’t completed high school or obtained a GED certificate, which is among the higher rates for this category in the country.

19. Rialto, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 29.8%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 28%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 11.2%

The second-smallest city in this study, Rialto has relatively few residents with four-year degrees. Roughly two-thirds of adults over 25 stopped short of getting a bachelor’s degree.

18. Kansas City, Kansas


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 32.7%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 28.6%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 16.6%

Kansas City, Missouri, made neither the best nor the worst list, so there’s no side-by-side comparison. However, that just means you won’t know how much less educated the Kansas city is than the Missouri one. With about a third of residents having halted their education immediately after high school, this is one city that appears to have other priorities.

17. Inglewood, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 21.1%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 34.2%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 19.2%

Inglewood does have a relatively high proportion of its population that continued their education beyond high school, with over half its inhabitants 25 or older having at least some college in their history.

16. Sunrise Manor, Nevada


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 33.3%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 27.9%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 11.2%

Just 2.5% of those age 18-24 here have gotten a bachelor’s degree, the second-lowest such rate of any city in this study.

15. Pasadena, Texas


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 30.2%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 26.5%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 14.4%

In this Texas city just outside of Houston, about one in three adults over 25 stopped their education at high school.

14. Springfield, Massachusetts


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 31.3%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 27.7%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 18.2%

Springfield is another city that has among the highest percentages of adults over 25 who completed high school and haven’t spent any time at a trade school or four-year college.

13. Escondido, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 21.9%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 30.9%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 23%

Over one in five Escondido residents between the ages of 18 and 24 hasn’t completed high school, one of the highest rates in this study.

12. McAllen, Texas


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 19.3%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 25.3%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 29.3%

About one in four McAllen residents older than 25 haven’t gotten their high school diploma or an equivalent.

11. Hartford, Connecticut


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 32.3%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 23.7%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 16.7%

Hartford is among the five cities with the most adults over 25 who stopped their education with a high school diploma. Just under one in three people opted not to give college a try.

10. Laredo, Texas


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 27%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 22.8%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 18%

Nearly 40% of Laredo’s young adults — between the age of 18 and 24 — haven’t yet pursued a college degree, and just 4.1% of that same group has finished their bachelor’s degree.

9. San Bernardino, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 27.8%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 28.3%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 11.4%

Just a little more than one in 10 adults over 25 in San Bernardino have gotten their bachelor’s degree, putting it among the cities with the lowest rates in that category.

8. Palmdale, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 25.6%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 34.1%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 14.7%

While there’s plenty of reasons why someone wouldn’t have a bachelor’s degree before the age of 25, just 2.7% of Palmdale’s young adults have done so — the third-lowest percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds with four-year degrees of any city in this study.

7. Oxnard, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 22.3%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 28.5%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 16.8%

Almost a third of Oxnard’s over-25 population hasn’t completed high school or gotten their GED certificate.

6. Brownsville, Texas


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 23%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 22.3%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 18.9%

All of the 10 least educated American cities come from just two states. Brownsville is the second Texas city in the top 10, with about a quarter of their adults over 25 having never gone beyond high school.

5. Santa Ana, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 22.1%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 21%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 13.2%

The 43.6% of Santa Ana’s 25-and-older population that don’t have their high school diploma represents the second-highest such rate of any city included in the study.

4. El Monte, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 27.3%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 18.6%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 11.6%

El Monte is among the cities with the highest percentage of people 25 and older who haven’t finished high school at 42.6%, and its percentage of adults over 25 with a bachelor’s degree is low at just over one in ten.

3. Salinas, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 23%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 24%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 12.9%

Just 2% of Salinas residents in the 18-24 age demographic have gotten a bachelor’s degree, the lowest rate of any city on this list.

2. East Los Angeles, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 23.8%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 18.5%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 7.3%

A little over half the residents of East Los Angeles age 25 and older haven’t received a high school diploma or its equivalent — the highest such rate in this study.

1. Santa Maria, California


  • 25 and older with a high school diploma: 18.8%
  • 25 and older with some college or an associate degree: 27.9%
  • 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 12.7%

Santa Maria has the highest percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who haven’t completed high school in this study at 26.8%. It should also be clear that California is a state of wildly disparate education experiences. While a whopping six of the 25 most educated cities were in California, the Golden State also holds an incredible 15 of the 25 least educated cities, including all five of the top five and eight of the top 10.

More on Money and Education

Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed 312 cities in America with populations over 100,000, according to the 2017 United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, in order to find the most and least educated cities in the country. Using the aforementioned American Community Survey, GOBankingRates looked at the following factors: (1) percent of 18- to 24-year-olds with less than a high school degree; (2) percent of those 25 and older with less than a high school degree; (3) percent of 18- to 24-year-olds with a high school degree or equivalent; (4) percent of those 25 and older with a high school degree or equivalent; (5) percent of 18- to 24-year-olds with some college or an associate degree; (6) percent of those 25 and older with some college or an associate degree; (7) percent of 18- to 24-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher; and (8) percent of those 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher. These eight factors were then scored, with a lower score being better, and combined to give a final ranking. In the combination of scores, factors No. 5 and 6 were given a 0.5 weight and factors No. 7 and 8 were given a 1.5 weight. Supplemental data included the unemployment rate of each city’s 16 and older population and the median earnings for each city’s 16 and older population, all sourced from the 2017 United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The median home value was also included as supplemental data and sourced from Zillow’s July 2019 index. All research conducted on Aug. 21, 2019.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Most and Least Educated Cities in America