(October 2002) Nationwide, the percentage of people ages 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree increased from 20 percent in 1990 to 24 percent in 2000, and similar increases in educational attainment occurred in every state.1 But there are still considerable regional, state, and local differences in levels of education, reflecting disparities in economic strength and labor market needs. On the whole, educational attainment in 2000 was highest in Northeastern states and lowest in Southern states. In 2000, Colorado and Massachusetts led the country with 33 percent of residents holding at least a bachelor’s degree.2 Connecticut and Maryland were close behind with 31 percent each. Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts also led the country in the share of people with graduate or professional degrees. In Massachusetts, about 14 percent of people ages 25 and older had graduate or professional degrees in 2000, compared with 13 percent each in Connecticut and Maryland. Of the 50 states, these three have been the most successful in attracting and retaining people with advanced degrees in science, finance, technology, and other specialty areas.

In 2000, high school dropouts were concentrated in the South. In three states — Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi — more than one in four people ages 25 and older did not graduate from high school. There were also four states — California, Kentucky, Texas, and West Virginia — where more than 10 percent of residents ages 25 and older dropped out of school before the ninth grade. In California and Texas, the large influx of Mexican immigrants accounted for high dropout rates, while rates were high in Kentucky and West Virginia because many residents live in poor, economically isolated areas of Appalachia.

Within states, the most educated areas were in wealthy suburbs, where people have been attracted by opportunities in the sciences, federal government, and higher education. There were several counties in which more than one-fourth of the population had graduate or professional degrees in 2000, including Los Alamos County, N.M. (36 percent), Arlington County, Va. (31 percent), Montgomery County, Md. (28 percent), Orange County, N.C. (27 percent), and Tompkins County, N.Y. (27 percent).3

In contrast, there were also several counties where more than a third of the population ages 25 and older dropped out of school before the ninth grade. Most of these counties were in Texas, along the U.S. border with Mexico, but the list included, among others, Owsley County, Ky. in Appalachia (34 percent) and Holmes County, Ohio (34 percent), which has a large Amish community.


  1. The Census Bureau measures educational attainment of people ages 25 and older because, by age 25, most people have completed their education.
  2. If the District of Columbia were a state, it would have led the country in 2000, with 39 percent of its 25-and-older population holding at least a bachelor’s degree.
  3. Falls Church City, a county equivalent, also had a high proportion with graduate or professional degrees in 2000 (34 percent).