The South Is America's High-School Dropout Factory

America's educational attainment, mapped. 

Are Americans educated enough? How you answer that question—which seems to obsess certain newspaper editorial boards—really depends on where in the country you look. Some states compete with the best school systems in the world. Some seem to be racing for the bottom. Today, I wanted to offer up three vivid illustrations of how educationally balkanized we really are, courtesy of the Census Bureau's delightful new interactive data-mapping tool.

First, high school. This map shows the percentage of adults over 25 who have earned a diploma or finished an equivalency program across each county in the lower 48 states. The darker the shade of orange, the higher the graduation rate. Notice the giant pale underbelly stretching below the Mason Dixon line from the Southeast through Texas. That's our Southern dropout belt, where completion rates are largely below 85 percent. The national average, for reference, is about 87 percent.   

Still, in the majority of the country, most adults have at least earned a high school diploma or a GED. Not so when it comes to college.

Bachelor's degree holders cluster on the coasts, in major urban centers, and in Colorado. The Northeast's Acela corridor is especially full of them. So while, about 31 percent of American adults have a bachelor's degree or more, across many of our counties, fewer than one in five residents graduated from college.

Here's another way to look at that concentration, wher number of college grads in each county corresponds to the size of the bubble. The Southeast comes out looking a bit better here, but the coasts—East, West, Great Lake, and Gulf—still dominate

Again, we can talk all we want about American education. But in terms of achievement, we're not really one country. 

Presented by

Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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