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.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Business

Just In