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Least educated county in every state

  • Least educated county in every state

    The value of traditional education can vary widely across the country. While a college degree has long been viewed as a critical step toward the American dream, growing costs have led many students to reconsider the return-on-investment of higher education. Meanwhile, local economies and individual circumstances can push others toward learning a trade or entering the workforce early.

    These considerations aside, national statistics show a clear difference in earnings as they relate to educational attainment, as college graduates typically earn 65% more than those with only a high school degree.

    To help understand areas with the lowest educational attainment, Stacker used data from the 2014–2018 American Community Survey to construct a weighted index that measures the relative education level for every county in the United States. This index evaluates each county’s over-25 population across seven educational tiers, ranging from individuals not educated past eighth grade to those with graduate or professional degrees. For each segment of these tiers, a points-based indexing system was applied in direct proportion to the estimated years of schooling for each level of educational attainment. Lastly, the full range of index scores was normalized to a 0 to 100 scale, with 100 representing the most educated county in the United States.

    For each county, we've included supporting educational attainment data, as well as how it ranks nationally. Read on for a look at the least-educated county in every state and just what factors might have contributed to its status at the bottom of the educational pile.

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  • Alabama: Greene County

    - Education index score: 75.32
    - Highest level of education attained by county residents:
    --- Less than high school: 9.4%
    --- 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 14.7%
    --- High school graduate or equivalent: 36.8%
    --- Some college, no degree: 21.5%
    --- Associate's degree: 7.5%
    --- Bachelor's degree: 6.4%
    --- Graduate or professional degree: 3.7%
    - Rank among all counties: #2,978 out of 3,142

    An educated county is likely to begin with a strong school system, and the opposite is as likely to be true. Greene County had not one but two entries on the 2020–21 state of Alabama’s list of failing schools, including the flagship public high school.

  • Alaska: Kusilvak Census Area

    - Education index score: 73.30
    - Highest level of education attained by county residents:
    --- Less than high school: 7.5%
    --- 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 14.8%
    --- High school graduate or equivalent: 53.6%
    --- Some college, no degree: 16.6%
    --- Associate's degree: 2.7%
    --- Bachelor's degree: 3.3%
    --- Graduate or professional degree: 1.5%
    - Rank among all counties: #3,110 out of 3,142

    The Kusilvak Census Area is one of the poorest counties not just in Alaska, but in the entire country. This means that local school districts don’t have as much of a tax base to draw from as they otherwise might have to help fund quality education. The area is also remote, making physical access to educational facilities more difficult than it would be in a more accessible or densely populated area.

  • Arizona: Yuma County

    - Education index score: 75.57
    - Highest level of education attained by county residents:
    --- Less than high school: 14%
    --- 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 13.8%
    --- High school graduate or equivalent: 25.9%
    --- Some college, no degree: 24.3%
    --- Associate's degree: 7.1%
    --- Bachelor's degree: 9.7%
    --- Graduate or professional degree: 5%
    - Rank among all counties: #2,949 out of 3,142

    One issue making Yuma County a more difficult place to get an education? A new policy in the county’s school requiring parents to show identification before enrolling their children in school. The county sits right alongside the border of Mexico, and the ACLU has sent the district a letter stating that the policy violates the legal right to free education.

  • Arkansas: Lee County

    - Education index score: 74.09
    - Highest level of education attained by county residents:
    --- Less than high school: 7.5%
    --- 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 19.5%
    --- High school graduate or equivalent: 40.8%
    --- Some college, no degree: 18.8%
    --- Associate's degree: 4.4%
    --- Bachelor's degree: 6.7%
    --- Graduate or professional degree: 2.2%
    - Rank among all counties: #3,085 out of 3,142

    The state of Lee County’s schools is so dire that the state of Arkansas took control of the entire district. The state alleged that schools in Lee County did not provide accurate up-to-date transcripts for students, nor maintain the standards necessary for students to enroll in sufficient courses to graduate, compromising the county’s education level severely.

  • California: Merced County

    - Education index score: 74.32
    - Highest level of education attained by county residents:
    --- Less than high school: 18.5%
    --- 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 12.1%
    --- High school graduate or equivalent: 25.8%
    --- Some college, no degree: 22.4%
    --- Associate's degree: 7.1%
    --- Bachelor's degree: 9.1%
    --- Graduate or professional degree: 4.8%
    - Rank among all counties: #3,078 out of 3,142

    The superintendent of Merced County’s troubled schools was put on probation in 2019 following allegations of a toxic workplace. The superintendent allegedly yelled at school staff, breaking them down to the point of tears and made several harassing comments, including those that would constitute sexual harassment.

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  • Colorado: Bent County

    - Education index score: 77.42
    - Highest level of education attained by county residents:
    --- Less than high school: 4.4%
    --- 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 9.8%
    --- High school graduate or equivalent: 48.6%
    --- Some college, no degree: 18.2%
    --- Associate's degree: 6.5%
    --- Bachelor's degree: 8.9%
    --- Graduate or professional degree: 3.6%
    - Rank among all counties: #2,551 out of 3,142

    Drug use can complicate attempts to achieve academic credentials, and such may well be the case in Bent County. The county has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic, and local experts have said this makes it difficult for some children to focus on their education, since they may be caring for parents who use.

  • Connecticut: Windham County

    - Education index score: 82.09
    - Highest level of education attained by county residents:
    --- Less than high school: 3.5%
    --- 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 7.8%
    --- High school graduate or equivalent: 33%
    --- Some college, no degree: 22%
    --- Associate's degree: 9.5%
    --- Bachelor's degree: 14.9%
    --- Graduate or professional degree: 9.3%
    - Rank among all counties: #964 out of 3,142

    One issue Windham County towns face in educating its residents is a smaller tax base. The county has a largely aging demographic, and without relatively young, working-age citizens to contribute to its tax coffers, local schools have fewer resources to channel into educating their students.

  • Delaware: Kent County

    - Education index score: 81.44
    - Highest level of education attained by county residents:
    --- Less than high school: 4.2%
    --- 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 8.7%
    --- High school graduate or equivalent: 33.2%
    --- Some college, no degree: 22.2%
    --- Associate's degree: 8.2%
    --- Bachelor's degree: 14.6%
    --- Graduate or professional degree: 8.9%
    - Rank among all counties: #1,197 out of 3,142

    A major problem Kent County has in funding education for its residents is a healthy tax base. The county has a shortage of talent it has attracted to fill the county’s many job vacancies, so the county has fewer resources to fund public education. A new grant program aims to prepare more county residents for jobs in the area through educational training.

  • Florida: Hendry County

    - Education index score: 71.89
    - Highest level of education attained by county residents:
    --- Less than high school: 19.4%
    --- 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 14.9%
    --- High school graduate or equivalent: 34.8%
    --- Some college, no degree: 16.1%
    --- Associate's degree: 6.6%
    --- Bachelor's degree: 4.6%
    --- Graduate or professional degree: 3.6%
    - Rank among all counties: #3,125 out of 3,142

    One issue Hendry County schools have faced recently in the quest to educate their students is inappropriate behavior by teachers toward students. Two teachers and a school secretary are under investigation for sending inappropriate photographs and engaging in inappropriate behavior with students—and in one of the county’s middle schools at that.

  • Georgia: Taliaferro County

    - Education index score: 72.39
    - Highest level of education attained by county residents:
    --- Less than high school: 12.8%
    --- 9th to 12th grade, no diploma: 16%
    --- High school graduate or equivalent: 47.8%
    --- Some college, no degree: 11.9%
    --- Associate's degree: 4.6%
    --- Bachelor's degree: 4.7%
    --- Graduate or professional degree: 2.2%
    - Rank among all counties: #3,122 out of 3,142

    An analysis by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute of education and economic opportunities in the state often roughly corresponded to the county’s history in the antebellum era. In Taliaferro County, 63% of the population in 1860 were slaves, and 61% lived in poverty in 2018. The Institute drew a correlation between the lack of access to quality public education and consistently high poverty levels.

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