Best States for Higher Education – 2022 Edition

SmartAsset: The Best States for Higher Education – 2022 Edition

A college diploma is an important professional milestone that can boost your finances. According to, the average annual salary for those with only a high school diploma is $ 37,024, and someone with a bachelor’s degree earns an average of $ 60,996. With that in mind, SmartAsset has picked up the numbers to identify and rank the best U.S. states for higher education in 2022.

To do this, SmartAsset reviewed four-year public colleges and universities in each state. We ranked states by five metrics: undergraduate graduate rate, average net price, student-to-teacher ratio, 20-year return on investment, and state attendance. For more information on how we found and analyzed our data, see the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s eighth annual survey of the best states for higher education. Read our 2021 issue here.

The main conclusions

  • California is slipping and Michigan claims first place. California ranked fifth in our 2021 study, but 10th in 2022. Given the size and scope of the Golden State University system, this is a big change. Michigan, however, claims first place in 2022 after finishing seventh in 2021.

  • Strong show from the northeastern states. New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York are among the top 10 states for higher education. These four states are in the top 20 in terms of: 20-year return on investment or how much the average person benefits financially from attending a state college or university.

The image is a SmartAsset card called "Top 10 states for higher education."

The image is a SmartAsset card called “Top 10 States for Higher Education”.

1. Michigan

Michigan is in the top 20 states in four of the five indicators we reviewed. This includes the 12th best student-to-teacher ratio (15.97 students per teacher), the 13th in the state’s visitor ratio (33%) and the 14th in terms of 20-year return on investment ($ 388,278). ). In addition, the level of undergraduate graduates ranks 16th and is 60%.

2. Virginia

Virginia has the highest graduate rate in this study (73%). It also ranks seventh in the student-faculty ratio (15.71). Higher education is expensive in Old Dominion, ranking 45th with an average net price of $ 18,998 a year.

3. North Carolina

Tar Heel has the fifth best undergraduate rate in this study (68%). It also ranks 14th at an average net price of $ 12,919 a year. However, it ranks 43rd with a 20-year return on investment of $ 238,554.

4. New Jersey

The undergraduate level in New Jersey is 70%, which ranks third in this study. It also ranks seventh with a 20-year return on investment of $ 441,659. The state is expensive for higher education, ranking 42nd with an average net price of $ 18,240.

5. Rhode Island

Rhode Island students rank 10th in our study with 64% of graduates. The state ranks 15th in terms of student-to-teacher ratio (16.14 students per teacher) and also ranks 15th with a 20-year return on investment of $ 376,208.

6. Washington

Washington’s average net price is only $ 10,400 a year, which ranks third on this list. Return on investment for 20 years is $ 491,971 (second place). But the graduate level for students is at the bottom of only 48%.

7. Iowa

The number of graduates in Hawkeye for students is 72%, which is the second highest in this study. It ranks eighth with a 20-year return on investment of $ 427,752. But the average net price is in the bottom half of this study at 37th place, $ 16,637 a year.

8. Connecticut

The student-to-teacher ratio in Connecticut is 14.76 students per teacher, sixth in this study. The state ranks eighth with 66% of graduates for students. The average net price, however, is $ 18,528, ranking 44th.

9. New York

The average net price in New York for a year of college is only $ 10,784, which is the fourth place. It ranks 18th with a 20-year return on investment of $ 369,891 and 19th with a 58% graduate rate for students.

10. California

California has the best 20-year return on investment in higher education in this study ($ 497,667). It also ranks 11th at the average net price ($ 11,858 per year), but is at the bottom with a student-to-teacher ratio of 24.09 students per teacher.

The image is a SmartAsset table titled “Best States for Higher Education”.

The image is a SmartAsset table titled “Best States for Higher Education”.

Data and methodology

To determine the best states for higher education, SmartAsset analyzed data from 49 states (Delaware lacked comprehensive data). We considered the following five indicators:

  • Undergraduate graduation rate. The data comes from the Integrated Higher Education Data System (IPEDS) and is designed for the 2019-2020 academic year.

  • Average net price. This is the average annual net price charged to first-time full-time students who have been awarded a grant or scholarship. The data comes from IPEDS and is for the 2019-2020 school year.

  • The ratio of students to faculty. The data comes from IPEDS and is for the 2019-2020 school year.

  • 20-year return on investment. This is the difference between the 20-year average salary for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree minus the cost of studying at a higher education institution over four years and the 24-year average salary of a high school graduate. The data comes from Payscale.

  • The level of attendance in the state. This is the percentage of students who graduated from high school in 2019 and attended public college. Data come from IPEDS and the Western Intergovernmental Commission on Higher Education.

We looked exclusively at four-year public colleges and universities. Indicators were calculated using the weighted average number of schools in each state depending on the number of applicants.

First, we ranked each state by each metric, giving a double weighting of the number of undergraduate graduates and a single one to all other indicators. We then found the average rating of each state and used the average rating to determine the final score. We rated our score on the curve, with 15% of the best states receiving an A rating and 15% of the lower ones receiving an F rating.

Tips for paying for college tuition

  • The best way to plan your education for you or your children is to work with a financial advisor. Finding a qualified financial advisor should not be difficult. The free SmartAsset tool connects you with three financial advisors who serve your region, and you can interview your advisers for free to decide which one is right for you. If you are ready to find a consultant who can help you achieve your financial goals, start now.

  • Think of the discovery of a 529 plan. The 529 plans save tax-free money to prepare for college expenses in the future.

Have questions about our study? Contact us at

Photo: © iStock / nazar_ab

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