Most Educated Cities in 2016

From education level, to the rates of employment and poverty, to the quality of schools and beyond, there are myriad important factors to consider when determining the most educated cities in America. Seeking to capture these factors, we considered 17 data points from three sources and interviewed two experts. Below you will find our results, as well as a detailed methodology explaining how we arrived at them.

200 most educated cities in America

Here is how every city captured in our study ranks in the four categories of data that best helped us evaluate.

Education and Poverty
School Quality
Education and Employment
1San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA4344115
2Boulder, CO11111638
3San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA7874100
4Fort Collins, CO5623666
5Ann Arbor, MI21463149
6Austin-Round Rock, TX16772240
7Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA15572098
8Charlottesville, VA191121393
9Raleigh, NC8284748
10Rochester, MN243472
11Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA211284127
12Cedar Rapids, IA524195
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Top (and bottom) five cities for…

No two cities are created equally. With this in mind, let's break down and explain how we ranked them in four key categories:

  • Attainment: the percentage of the 25-and-older population to reach a specific level of education (i.e. high school, college and beyond).
  • Education and poverty: the percentage of the 25-and-older population whose poverty status is determined by a specific level of education.
  • School quality: the ratings of primary and secondary schools, as well as universities, according to two survey-based sources.
  • Education and employment: the percentage of the 25-and-older population who are employed, according to their specific level of education.


Best cities

  • Boulder, Colo.
  • Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • San Jose, Calif.
  • For Collins, Colo.

Worst Cities

  • Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
  • Merced, Calif.
  • Visalia, Calif.
  • McAllen, Texas
  • Brownsville, Texas

To rank America's cities by attainment, we considered seven different levels of education (see methodology below). We narrowed our focus to calculate the percentage of each city's population to have earned a degree of some kind, whether it be an associate's, bachelor's or graduate degree. This was also the basis of our Most Educated Cities in 2015 study. In Boulder, Colo., for example, 63.8% of the population holds a degree of some kind, while the same figure in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., is 19.9%.


Best cities

  • York, Pa.
  • Appleton, Wis.
  • Rochester, Minn.
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Lancaster, Pa.

Worst cities

  • Brownsville, Texas
  • McAllen, Texas
  • Gainesville, Fla.
  • Eugene, Ore.
  • El Paso, Texas

For more depth, we returned to the U.S. Census Bureau's vast database of education-related data. To determine whether a university education was lifting the average student-turned-professional above the poverty line, we considered this category. For example, 2.4% of bachelor's degree-holders in York, Pa., are in poverty, compared with 7.8% in Brownsville, Texas.

School quality

Best cities

  • San Luis Obispo, Calif.
  • Olympia, Wash.
  • Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • San Jose, Calif.
  • San Francisco

Worst cities

  • Springfield, Mass.
  • Hartford, Conn.
  • Bridgeport, Conn.
  • Providence, R.I.
  • Milwaukee

It's one thing for a city's residents to have earned a degree. It's another matter if the education they received on their way to that degree was of high quality or not. To account for this, we considered two data sources (methodology below) that rate and rank schools based on surveys.


Best cities

  • Sioux Falls, S.D.
  • Rochester, Minn.
  • Appleton, Wis.
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Worst cities

  • Fayetteville, N.C.
  • Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
  • Killeen, Texas
  • Clarksville, Tenn.
  • Ocala, Fla.

After measuring a city's education level, poverty rate and quality of schools, there was only one more key statistic that we wanted to consider: whether these educated graduates in these supposedly educated cities were able to turn their studies into professions. This last category, also built on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, gave us a percentage of employment for each level of education (high school diploma, associate's degree, etc.). In Sioux Falls, S.D., for example, 90% of bachelor's degree-holders also hold jobs, versus a 68% mark in Fayetteville, N.C.


To determine the most educated cities in 2016, we sought out recent data from reputable sources. We ended our search with 17 data points from three such sources to help us evaluate America's 200 most populous cities. Below, we break down each statistic and point to its origin. In parenthesis is the category's weighting, which determines each city's overall rank, and those marked with an asterisk are state-based (not city-based).

Attainment: percentage of the 25-and-older population to reach a specific level of education (1.5 weighting)

1. Did not attend high schoolU.S. Census Bureau (Table S1501)
2. Attended high school
3. Received a high school diploma
4. Attended college
5. Earned an associate's degree
6. Earned a bachelor's degree
7. Earned a graduate or professional degree
Education and poverty: percentage of the 25-and-older population whose poverty status is determined by a specific level of education (0.25 weighting)
8. Attended high schoolU.S. Census Bureau (Table S1501)
9. Received a high school diploma
10. Attended college or earned an associate's degree
11. Earned a bachelor's degree or higher

Education experts weigh in

To expand upon our coverage of the most educated cities in America, we reached out to two experts. Here is what they had to say.

Chester Goad headshot

Dr. Chester Goad is an administrator at Tennessee Technological University, as well as a former primary and secondary school principal and teacher, congressional staffer and author.

1. What are the most important factors we should consider when determining which cities are most educated?

It's important for anyone researching education level to factor in skills and technical-based certificates and associate's degrees along with typical four-year undergraduate, graduate and advanced degrees. Simply bean-counting numbers of individuals who hold degrees is not enough. You have to look at the degrees that people are earning and how they may impact the overall job market, industry and culture of the communities in which they're located.

When companies or employers are looking to relocate, they want to know that there's going to be enough people with the appropriate skills necessary to sustain and drive the company in profits and overall success. So they're going to be asking questions about the types of professionals or skilled workers local educational organizations are churning out, making sure that it's a good match.

In Tennessee, policymakers have instituted targeted efforts to ensure that more people are getting a variety of degree types in order to make our state more appealing to prospective companies. It's a supply-and-demand issue, really. Employers need certain types of workers depending on their industry, and states want to meet that demand.

2. How is a city affected positively or negatively by the amount of degree-holders it has among its residents?

It's important for cities to take a targeted approach on increasing the types of degrees and education people hold. Some locations can get saturated with certain types of degrees or skills. Often people will move where the jobs are. Industry works similarly: companies will relocate where the workers are who are qualified to do the work they need. It's no longer as simple as deciding to go somewhere just because the population is saturated with degrees. It's the types of degrees.

Many cities have a few industries they're trying to attract. It takes having a workforce that is educated in those particular skills to entice companies to bring jobs. The city workforce has to be able to support and sustain the mission of the business or industry, and every city is different.

3. If it's beneficial for them, how should cities aim to attract highly-educated people?

Some cities, as well as private industries, are offering incentives to people seeking certain types of degrees, that can sometimes be in the form of tuition-assistance for continued education or professional development, or job-placement agencies offering relocation assistance. Cities have always had to work to attract companies and industries, but now they're having to work more competitively to attract people who are already highly educated or highly skilled.

The best scenario, though, is ensuring that local communities are raising up a skilled, educated workforce and giving them more incentive to stick around, and then marketing the existing workforce to prospective companies or industry.

4. How can the country as a whole improve the education level of its citizens?

More incentives for states and local communities to set their own targeted degree and skill-attainment goals, support in reaching educational benchmarks, nurturing and maintaining excellence in education.

For example, my own state's Drive to 55 initiative is already showing increases in degree attainment. The initiative sets a goal of equipping 55% of Tennesseans with some form of higher education, whether that's from a technical college, two-year college or four-year undergraduate university. One of the ways our state is accomplishing this is through what the state calls, Tennessee Promise. Tennessee Promise provides all students who qualify with free community college or technical college for their first two years of higher education, and it provides mentors for every student.

As an educator, one thing I really love is that this endeavor hasn't left adults out of the equation. There are incentives for adults to go back and earn college credits as well. It's a lofty but attainable goal, and I respect my state for taking on that kind of endeavor. Like many of our private citizens, I'm of course wishing the program much success. What makes it unique is the approach is not simply an educational goal, but a full Tennessee workforce and development goal.

Not every approach is going to be best for every state, but the important thing is for states and communities to realize that education, workforce and economic programs should all work in tandem to attract and maintain successful employment for citizens.

I also believe that states and communities should not let the potential of individuals with disabilities slip off the radar either. Given the right circumstances and the right opportunities, individuals with disabilities can be a strong addition to the workforce. Considering that the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is much higher than non-disabled workers, education and work programs or incentives for the disabled demographic is also a great way to lower the unemployment rate.

J.Luke Wood headshot

*Dr. J. Luke Wood is an associate professor of community college leadership at San Diego State University, as well as a co-director of the Minority Male Community College Collaborative.

1. How can the country as a whole improve the education level of its citizens?

Better preparing educators to teach students. The vast majority of college and university faculty have never received formal instruction in how to teach students. For example, a professor of biology often has a terminal degree in biology, but little if any training in teaching biology. So you have greater content experts with incredible knowledge, but often that knowledge is not properly conveyed to students. Thus, credential college faculty, or ongoing professional development is needed.

Second, we need mandatory preschool for all children. Too often, children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds — often low income, students of color — do not have access to preschool or high-quality preschools. Thus, these children are then at a disadvantage in early grades, a pattern that only increases over time.

Third, we need to make college more affordable. Partly, the skyrocketing cost of college is due to states withdrawing their financial support. An extreme case of this is evident in Louisiana. As a result, public colleges and universities have sought to maintain fiscal viability by raising tuition, forcing on-campus living and moving academic programs to the for-profit arms of the college. This has served to negatively affect students by making education too expensive and reducing the quality of education provided.

Neha Gupta headshot
Neha Gupta is the owner of College Shortcuts and Elite Private Tutors, a tutoring agency that offers digital online products to students applying to college.

1. What are the most important factors we should consider when determining which cities are most educated?

Consider how competitive it is to get into private schools, especially kindergarten. The word on the street will tell you that this level of competition is a strong indicator of education in cities.

2. How is a city affected positively or negatively by the amount of degree-holders it has among its residents?

Cities are positively affected by having more degree-holders, as it adds more to the workforce in terms of higher-level positions, which then lead to higher paying jobs, which then leads to better economic status of that particular city.

3. If it's beneficial for them, how should cities aim to attract highly-educated people?

Strong marketing from top universities in that city. When colleges are ranked highly in the area — or they are pushing for improving their education opportunities — more people flock to those cities. Also, major company hubs always attract high-level education.

4. How can the country as a whole improve the education level of its citizens?

This one is a big question. I would say honestly — to improve the college readiness programs at schools. I launched College Shortcuts because I realized that so many students have no idea what they want to do, and they don't know which colleges to go to. This loss of information is causing parents thousands of dollars when their child switches majors, doesn't find their passion, et cetera. It starts in high school.

Jeff Winkler headshot
Jeff Winkler is the CEO of Origin Code Academy, a software developer program.

1. What are the most important factors we should consider when determining which cities are most educated?

I would say, besides the obvious metrics such as high school graduation rates as well as people over the age of 25 with an associates degree or higher, that other things should be used to determine the most educated cities. If you buy into the theory that the average college graduate earns more money over the course of a lifetime than those without a college degree, then you could also use average professional salary as a metric. I think one of the best indicators would be the cities' unemployment rate. Unemployment rate is generally a good indicator of whether a skill gap exists between what employers are hiring for versus existing skills that the work force possesses in that city. In a city that is more educated, you wouldn't have a high unemployment rate, as the workforce would pursue education of some sort to start filling those jobs. A city that is unable to fill those jobs is less educated and less willing to provide or pursue education to fill those skills.

2. How is a city affected positively or negatively by the amount of degree-holders it has among its residents?

A city is impacted positively in many areas such as a larger tax base, lower unemployment and a large talent base for employers to hire from that make the city more attractive when deciding where to be located. It can also be negatively affected for those that don't have a college degree. If you live in a city with a large amount of degree-holders, it can make it tougher to get a job due to the minimum requirements of an average job being much higher. Employers would be able to require a degree as a minimum requirement, and there would be increased and tougher competition for entry-level and more professional jobs for those without a degree.

3. If it's beneficial for them, how should cities aim to attract highly-educated people?

It's kind of a chicken-and-egg-type of a problem. The best way to attract highly-educated people would be to first attract employers that highly educated people would like to work for during their career. An easy example of how this would work would be to put a Google campus in the middle of a random city in the United States. No matter what city that was, the city they put the campus in would automatically fill up with highly educated people once it was announced that Google was moving a campus to that particular city.

However, employers want to know if there is an existing talent pool before they choose a particular city. As a city, you need to ensure that you have enough career training and post-secondary education to make the case to large corporations that you can support their hiring needs in the future.

4. How can the country as a whole improve the education level of its citizens?

I think the biggest shift in education in the history of our country will take place over the next 25 years. The single thing we can do to improve the education level of our citizens is to focus more on outcome-based education. Rather than sending tens of thousands of students through a process that may or may not train them for a particular occupation, why not structure education directly to prepare them for a career?

We hear a lot of stories from friends or friends’ kids that with the cost of college, they won't be able to afford it. Since when did college become the only form of education for citizens? Why can't they pick a career and go to a school or receive training to start a particular career? They don't need to take four years and take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans anymore. I think it's time we reverted back to the apprentice style of education and learning, which is hands-on learning, a skill tha

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