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: 32.9%
> Median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders: $60,121 (5th highest)
> Median household income: $67,739 (9th highest)
> 2016 unemployment: 5.4% (9th highest)
Only 82.4% of adults in California have completed high school — the smallest share of any state. A high school diploma is a prerequisite for a college degree, but despite the poor high school diploma attainment rate, adults in California are more likely than most American adults to have a college education. Some 32.9% of Californians 25 and older have a four-year college degree compared to 31.3% of American adults nationwide.
A college education appears to be a worthwhile investment in California. The typical college graduate in the state earns about $30,000 more a year than the typical high school graduate — the largest such income gap of any state after New Jersey.
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.