According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals with bachelor’s degrees alone make twice as much and are half as likely to be unemployed on average as those with only a high school education. SmartAsset wanted to find out which United States cities truly have the best educated populations.
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Using education statistics from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, we ranked 530 cities by the educational attainments of their residents at three levels: The percentage of the population aged 25 and over with high school diplomas, the undergraduate educated population (the percentage with bachelor’s degrees), and the percentage with advanced degrees. The cities’ overall ranking of educated citizens is the total of these three ranks.
It may seem obvious that just about all of the top ten cities are college towns – but which ones they are may be surprising.
The Ten Most Educated Cities
Long a haven for hippies and bohemians, Boulder has a reputation for an educated and artsy population. The University of Colorado’s main campus, with more than 31,000 total undergraduate and graduate students, is located in Boulder. Many university-educated people in the Boulder area are associated with the University of Colorado, but the city also plays host to a large number of independent scientific institutions, such as the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. About 94.5 percent of Boulder’s 25-and-older population have a high school diploma, 57.9 percent have a bachelor’s degree (the highest in the country) and 26.9 percent have graduate or professional degrees.
Corvallis is the westernmost city in the continental United States with 50,000 or more people. The major center of education and employment in Corvallis is Oregon State University, which is well-known as a top public university for the sciences, particularly biology and engineering. Close to 28,000 students are OSU Beavers. Multiple medical research firms are also major Corvallis employers. Among Corvallis adults, 94.2 percent have high school diplomas, 53.1 percent have bachelor’s degrees and 23.5 percent have graduate or professional degrees.
Ames is home to Iowa State University, the first land-grant public educational institution in the country. Founded in 1858, the school now has more than 33,000 total students. ISU has hundreds of undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs of study. It is also a charter member of the Big 12 athletic conference. Ames has a 95.2 percent rate of high school graduates, 50.8 percent with bachelor’s degrees and 18.8 percent with graduate or professional educations.
During the Civil War, Lawrence was the epicenter of “Bleeding Kansas” – today, it is a state center of finance and politics. The University of Kansas, located in Lawrence, is well-known for its successful Jayhawks basketball team as well as its disability medicine and political science programs with close to 28,000 students. Lawrence’s adult population is 94.4 percent high school educated, 48 percent undergraduate educated and 22.9 percent graduate educated or beyond.
Called the “Athens of the West” for good reason, Columbia is a major college town thrice over. It has boasted of an educated population for more than 150 years. The University of Missouri – “Mizzou” – is the largest college within city limits, with about 27,000 students, but Stephens College and Columbia College also have more than a thousand students each. The University of Missouri sports the most powerful nuclear reactor held by any college in the world. Among Columbia adults 25 and over, 94.2 percent have a high school diploma, 47.8 a bachelor’s degree and 20.6 percent a higher degree than that.
Ithaca, New York
If hilly, windy Ithaca only had Ithaca College, a major private liberal arts school with almost 7,000 students, in its city limits, it would already be counted as a significant college town. However, it is also home to the Ivy League’s Cornell University, with close to 21,000 total students and an illustrious history. About 93.4 percent of Ithaca adults have a high school diploma, 51.9 percent an undergraduate education and 30.9 percent are graduate-level educated, the highest rate in the nation.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The name Ann Arbor usually conjures up thoughts of the University of Michigan. Both U-Mich and the hospital associated with it are major employers in the city, and the Wolverines number more than 30,000 between undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom are science and engineering students and who turn out in droves for the Division I NCAA football team.
Iowa City, Iowa
Iowa City plays host to the University of Iowa, which has over 31,000 students. The University of Iowa was the first United States school to offer a Master of Fine Arts degree, and still continues to award many of those, as well as undergraduate and graduate degrees in the physical and social sciences. Among Iowa City adults, 93.6 percent have a high school diploma, 47.6 percent are undergraduate educated and 22.6 percent have an advanced degree.
Fort Collins, Colorado
The thoroughfares of Fort Collins were Walt Disney’s inspiration for the Main Street, USA areas of his Disneyland and Disney World theme parks. The city is home to 31,000-student Colorado State University, the only land grant school in Colorado, which is known for its veterinary medicine program, among others. Around 94.8 percent of Fort Collins adults have high school diplomas, 44.7 percent have bachelor’s degrees and 17 percent have higher degrees.
The Wisconsin capital is home to one of the biggest public universities in the country, the University of Wisconsin – more than 43,000 students are Badgers, and the school spends more than $1 billion on research yearly, the third-highest among all colleges in the country. About 94.7 percent of Madison’s adult population is high school educated, 42.6 percent have bachelor’s degrees and 17.7 percent have graduate degrees.
Least Educated Cities
In our study the least educated cities included Moses Lake, Washington, Merced, California, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Hobbs, New Mexico, Martinsville, Virginia, El Centro, California, Dalton, Georgia, Hanford, California and Fort Payne, Alabama. The least educated city was Madera, California with 70.3% of the population high school educated, 12.5% college educated and 2.6% with graduate or professional degrees.
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