Educational Attainment

paint hands going from child-size to adult

Educational Attainment

An educated population is one of the most important components of a vital, healthy state. In this light Virginia does quite well, generally increasing its citizens' level of educational attainment and surpassing the national average in high school and baccalaureate degrees or higher.

Why is This Important?

Educational attainment measures the level of education reached by people currently living in a particular area. It is a long-term indicator of the investment that a state or region has made in developing and attracting human capital and provides a "big picture" assessment of its overall quality of life, workforce preparedness, and economic potential.

How is Virginia Doing?

High School Graduation or Equivalent and Higher. See text for explanation.

Virginia's educational attainment is slightly above the national average in terms of individuals with a high school education, but well above average for individuals with education beyond the secondary level. In 2015, Virginia ranked 28th in the nation for the percentage of its adult population (25 years or older) with at least a high school education, but 6th for adults with at least a bachelor's degree.

88.9 percent of Virginia adults had completed at least high school in 2015, exceeding the national average of 87.0 percent. Virginia's rate was higher than neighboring states Tennessee (86.1%) and North Carolina (86.6%), but lower than Maryland (89.6%). New Hampshire led the nation with 93.1 percent of its adult population having at least a high school education.

Bachelor's Degree or Higher. See text for explanation.The percentage of Virginia's adult population with at least a bachelor's degree has exceeded the national average for many years, increasing from 32.7 percent in 2006 to 36.9 percent in 2015; the national average in 2015 was 30.5 percent. Comparing rates with peer states, Virginia still lags behind Maryland's rate of 38.8 percent, but is well above North Carolina (29.4%) and Tennessee (25.3%). Massachusetts again led the nation in 2015 with 41.5 percent of residents with a bachelor's degree or above.

Educational Attainment, By Region. See text for explanation.

Advanced Degrees Attainment, by Virginia Region.  See text for explanation.

Focusing just on Virginia, educational attainment improved in every region across the state between 2000 and 2010-2014 (see Data Note below). All regions increased both their high school- and college-educated populations, with the Northern and Hampton Roads regions having the highest high school-educated populations, and the Northern and Central regions having the highest college-educated ones.

What Influences Educational Attainment?

A number of factors influence educational attainment, including availability and quality of educational services, affordability, economic opportunity, responsiveness of educational institutions to the particular needs of a community or region, regional culture, and migration into and out of the state.

What is the State's Role?

The state's role is to:

  • Ensure that the public education system maintains high standards for overall quality, instruction, and graduation rates
  • Provide programs that promote educational attainment and help students access postsecondary education
  • Provide career services and awareness of job-related education, skills, and training
  • Increase economic opportunity by anticipating and responding to economic forces and trends
Page last modified June 28, 2017

Residents with HS Graduation or Higher, by State Bachelor's Degree or Higher by State

Educational Attainment (High School and Bachelor's Degrees) by Virginia Region. See text for explanation.Educational Attainment in Virginia, Advanced Degrees. See text for explanation.

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data Definitions and Sources

State Graphs
American Community Survey
(updated annually in December)

2006-2015 figures are based on American Community Survey 1-year estimates.

Regional Graphs
U.S. Census Bureau
[2000 figures are from decennial census (updated with national census every 10 years); 2010-2014 figures are based on American Community Survey 5-year estimates between January 2010 and December 2014]

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Educational Attainment in Virginia

Performance Trend: Trend is improving.
State Influence:  

National Ranking: Virginia ranks 6th in the nation (2015 data) for the percentage of adult residents with at least a bachelor's degree.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

The Virginia Business Higher Education Council has announced its second "Grow by Degrees" target for Virginia, which calls for 168,628 new bachelor's and associate's degrees between 2014 and 2030. If achieved, Virginia would rank #1 in college attainment nationally.

The Early College Scholars program increases high school curriculum rigor to move the Commonwealth's schools to excellence.

Project Graduation provides remedial academies and online tutorials to provide additional opportunities to help students meet high school competency standards.

GED Virginia, in association with the Department of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, works to prepare adults from across the state to successfully take their GED exam.

Middle College provides Virginia high school dropouts between the ages of 18 and 24 an opportunity to attain a GED on a community college campus.