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Where are the college graduates?

Geographical preferences for college grads in the US

College attainment in the US has been on the rise over the past several decades. To understand how this trend has affected different areas of the country, we map the distribution of college-educated adults.

The FRED map above color codes the percentage of adult residents with a bachelor’s degree for each county in the United States. These percentages have been calculated as averages over the 5-year period between 2017 and 2021. Adult residents are defined as being at least 18 years of age. The darkest shade indicates the highest concentration of college-educated residents, which is between 29.6% and 78.7%. The lightest shade indicates the lowest concentration, which is below 15.3%. The legend specifies the brackets for all five shades used in the map.

Clearly, college graduates are not evenly spread out across the United States. Counties with greater percentages of college graduates appear to be concentrated in the Northeast and west of Colorado. Counties with the lowest percentages of college graduates tend to be concentrated in the Southeast. There’s also a clear tendency of the college educated to be concentrated in urban areas. Especially notable are the coasts, which of course include the large metropolitan areas of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Also notable are the inland cities of Chicago, Austin, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Denver, and some smaller university towns. But, interestingly, even the rural counties in the Northeast (e.g., Vermont) tend to have a higher concentration of college graduates than the rural areas of the Southeast.

How this graph was created: Search FRED for “Bachelor’s Degree or Higher.” The results will show “Bachelor’s Degree or Higher (5-year estimate) in [insert your favorite county here] County.” Choose a county and click on the “View Map” button at the top right of the graph.

Suggested by Oksana Leukhina and Amy Smaldone.

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