The 15 Most Educated Cities in America

Smart man with light bulb
Ioannis Pantzi / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on HireAHelper.

Amid the intersection of mounting debt and rising college costs comes an honest question: Is college worth it?

The nation’s student loan debt level was around $1.4 trillion in 2020, making it the second-biggest debt pool behind mortgages. That figure is ahead of auto loans, credit cards, and other personal loans.

After adjusting for inflation, the average cost of a college education more than doubled between 1985 and 2019, while median household income only rose by 28%.

The data points to a larger issue for high school graduates pondering their future. Even if college is worth it, do graduates want to carry tens of thousands of dollars in student debt for the next 10, 20, or 30 years?

Today’s high school seniors are wrestling with significant questions that have no easy answers, and this may explain why the gig economy has become popular. Freelancers often don’t have to prove their education to get hired. Rather, they can showcase their skills. Talent, in some cases, is taking workers further than a diploma could have.

To identify which cities have the highest levels of education, researchers at HireAHelper analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data and calculated a composite score (from 0 to 100) based on the average number of years of education residents had completed.

For example, someone who finished high school was considered to have completed 12 years of education; whereas someone who earned a bachelor’s degree was considered to have completed 16 years.

Here are the large U.S. cities (population 350,000 or more) with the highest education rates.

15. New Orleans, LA

stormy sky in New Orleans, Louisiana
GJGK Photography / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 65.4
  • Average number of education years: 13.9
  • Graduate or professional degree: 18.0%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 21.7%
  • Associate degree only: 3.9%
  • High school diploma only: 23.1%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 12.3%

14. Nashville, TN

Nashville, Tennessee
jdross75 / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 67.0
  • Average number of education years: 14.0
  • Graduate or professional degree: 17.2%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 28.1%
  • Associate degree only: 6.4%
  • High school diploma only: 20.2%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 10.5%

13. San Diego, CA

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 67.1
  • Average number of education years: 14.1
  • Graduate or professional degree: 19.3%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 28.1%
  • Associate degree only: 7.0%
  • High school diploma only: 15.6%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 10.5%

12. Boston, MA

Boston, Massachusetts
Roman Babakin / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 68.5
  • Average number of education years: 14.2
  • Graduate or professional degree: 24.3%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 27.5%
  • Associate degree only: 5.1%
  • High school diploma only: 19.1%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 11.4%

11. Virginia Beach, VA

Virginia Beach, Virginia
JoMo333 / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 69.0
  • Average number of education years: 14.2
  • Graduate or professional degree: 15.3%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 22.9%
  • Associate degree only: 12.2%
  • High school diploma only: 18.7%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 5.9%

10. Colorado Springs, CO

Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs
CG3 / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 69.2
  • Average number of education years: 14.2
  • Graduate or professional degree: 15.4%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 24.9%
  • Associate degree only: 10.6%
  • High school diploma only: 20.0%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 5.6%

9. Austin, TX

Austin, Texas waterscape
Silvio Ligutti / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 70.7
  • Average number of education years: 14.3
  • Graduate or professional degree: 21.1%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 33.9%
  • Associate degree only: 5.5%
  • High school diploma only: 14.2%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 10.1%

8. Minneapolis, MN

Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis
Roger Siljander / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 71.6
  • Average number of education years: 14.4
  • Graduate or professional degree: 20.7%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 31.5%
  • Associate degree only: 7.7%
  • High school diploma only: 14.6%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 8.7%

7. Raleigh, NC

Raleigh, North Carolina
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 71.7
  • Average number of education years: 14.4
  • Graduate or professional degree: 18.7%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 31.6%
  • Associate degree only: 7.2%
  • High school diploma only: 16.8%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 8.2%

6. Denver, CO

Denver, Colorado
f11photo / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 71.8
  • Average number of education years: 14.4
  • Graduate or professional degree: 20.5%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 32.6%
  • Associate degree only: 5.0%
  • High school diploma only: 17.0%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 8.8%

5. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, California
canadastock / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 72.0
  • Average number of education years: 14.4
  • Graduate or professional degree: 24.1%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 35.1%
  • Associate degree only: 4.9%
  • High school diploma only: 11.9%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 11.6%

4. Portland, OR

Portland skyline
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 75.0
  • Average number of education years: 14.7
  • Graduate or professional degree: 21.4%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 31.4%
  • Associate degree only: 6.5%
  • High school diploma only: 15.0%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 6.5%

3. Atlanta, GA

Atlanta, Georgia
f11 photo / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 78.7
  • Average number of education years: 14.9
  • Graduate or professional degree: 24.3%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 32.2%
  • Associate degree only: 5.3%
  • High school diploma only: 17.0%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 7.5%

2. Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C.
f11photo / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 81.3
  • Average number of education years: 15.1
  • Graduate or professional degree: 34.0%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 25.7%
  • Associate degree only: 3.3%
  • High school diploma only: 15.8%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 8.2%

1. Seattle, WA

Aerial view of roads leading into Seattle at sunset.
Punit Sharma Fotography / Shutterstock.com
  • Composite score: 83.5
  • Average number of education years: 15.3
  • Graduate or professional degree: 28.1%
  • Bachelor’s degree only: 36.9%
  • Associate degree only: 5.4%
  • High school diploma only: 9.5%
  • Less than a high school diploma: 5.3%

Methodology

Man analyzing data on a laptop
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Population and educational attainment data are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey. All education data is for the population 25 years and over.

To identify which cities have the highest levels of education, researchers calculated a composite score (from 0 to 100) based on the average number of years of education residents completed.

For example, someone who completed high school only would be considered to have completed 12 years of education; whereas, someone who completed a bachelor’s degree only would be considered to have completed 16 years.

Data on the self-assessed value of higher education and financial well-being by level of education are from the Federal Reserve’s 2020 Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households Report.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.