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The Bold Business Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality

a photo of man's torso in white polo placing five gold stars front and center amid a background of a map in white sketch of the USA, symbolizing Bold Business' list of States ranked by education quality

With states ranked by education quality, students standing at the crossroads of life have more geographical diversity and more quality options when choosing a college or university. However, for years, published rankings have been the go-to source of information for the best colleges and universities. The publication of reports from U.S. News and World Report, QS World University Ranking, and Times Higher Education World University Ranking are always highly anticipated. Subsequently, based on these college rankings, the concentration of top universities and colleges fall within the states of California, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

While these rankings are helpful, options become limited. For families and students trying to make informed decisions, the availability of more options offering quality education is essential.

First, Let’s Define What Quality Education Means

Education is more than a content delivery system. To believe otherwise is outdated, if not insufficient. With attempts to define quality education away from the pedagogical point of view, educators from around the world have reached a consensus. The concluding agreement defined quality education as a system designed to help the youth reach their full potentials and enter society as full and productive citizens. Supported by quality teachers and quality tools and learning conducted within choice environments—quality education aspires to prepare every child not just for testing but also, most notably, for life. Thus, with more states offering quality education, the aim to prepare the youth for the future can be realized.

a photo of a classroom full of students listening to a teacher in front talk about the topic of states ranked by education quality
Education is more than a content delivery system

In Detail: States Ranked by Education Quality

By focusing on measures that spell successful educational outcomes, Bold Business would like to highlight the states with systems and policies in place to ensure that quality education is available for all. We collected available public data about the education system of each state, information from the best colleges and universities rankings, and the universities’ websites.

From these data, we created a list based on the states with the highest number of 4-year and 2-year higher education institutions within the state. We also investigated graduation rates for both 4-year and 2-year higher education courses. For a U.S. state to be included in the Top States Ranked by Education Quality, the population’s percentage with an advanced degree must be high. Lastly, the average dollar amount of debt at graduation should be low.

The Bold Business List of Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality

Our gathered data points painted a whole new picture. The states of California, Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania are still included in the list. However, a few previously low-ranking states climbed up the list, thus creating a more geographically diverse line up of options.

No.1
California grabs the top spot in the Bold Business list of States Ranked by Education Quality. California is home to several prestigious universities such as Stanford University, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and University of California, Berkeley (UCB). Not surprisingly, the Golden State holds the highest number of 4-year and 2-year higher education institutions. Graduation rate is also one of the highest at 68 percent.
No.2
North Carolina placed lower in other published rankings. However, with Bold Business’ list of States Ranked by Education Quality, the Old North State takes the second spot. North Carolina is undoubtedly one of the states that hold the most number of 2-year higher education institutions and that have a high 2-year graduation rate.
No. 3
Washington appeared in Times Higher Education Ranking, with the University of Washington taking the No. 19 spot. However, with Bold Business’ list of States Ranked by Education Quality, the Evergreen State earned more points by having a high 4-year graduation rate and a low student debt rate at graduation.
No. 4
Florida is one of the states that have the most number of 4-year higher education institutions. Thus, it is not surprising that 40 percent of the population is college-educated. With the Bold Business list of States Ranked by Education Quality, the Sunshine State takes the fourth place. Additionally, Florida takes the No. 1 spot in the U.S. News and World Report as the Best State for Higher Education.
No. 5
Colorado has a current population of 5.7 million. About 50 percent of this population achieved advanced education—the second highest in the list of States Ranked by Education Quality. This case is not surprising, as the Centennial State is home to some of the best colleges and universities—such as Colorado State University, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University of Denver.
No. 6
New York lands sixth in the Bold Business List of Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality. The state currently has 238 higher education institutions that provide world-class education. Students from four corners of the globe flock to the state for quality education and to experience a diverse melting pot of cultures.
No. 7
Maryland—also known as the “Old Line State”—is home to 6 million residents. Forty-six percent of its population has attained advanced education. Plus, the graduation rate is high at 67 percent and 53 percent for 4-year and 2-year higher education levels, respectively.
No. 8
Minnesota is a new entrant in the Bold Business List of Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality. With a population of 5.6 million, Minnesota is home to 61 institutions offering 4-year higher education and 34 institutions offering 2-year higher education. Markedly, 47 percent of the population has attained an advanced degree.
No. 9
Illinois is a mainstay of published school rankings with the inclusion of University of Chicago and Northwestern University. However, the state has a lot more to offer when it comes to education. Illinois is home to 108 colleges and universities and 63 schools offering 2-year higher education.
No. 10
Pennsylvania is one of the states where you can find most of the top colleges and universities: University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon, Swarthmore College and Haverford College. Currently, Pennsylvania has 159 institutions offering 4-year higher education and 82 institutions offering 2-year higher education.
No. 11
Virginia has produced the most U.S. Presidents, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Woodrow Wilson, to name a few. The state is also home to a number of intellectuals, scholars and writers. While Virginia ranks low in published school rankings, this state takes the No. 11 spot in the Bold Business List of Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality.
No. 12
New Jersey has Princeton, Rutgers, and College of New Jersey from its line-up of best colleges and universities. With a college graduation rate of 68 percent, the state of New Jersey is ranked as one of the states with the best education system. Thus, it makes it to the Bold Business List of Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality.
No. 13
Arizona’s top colleges and universities include Arizona Christian University, Prescott College and the University of Arizona. While Arizona does not usually rank high in published school rankings, the state offers an extensive network of 2-year higher education institutions.
No. 14
Texas, the second-largest state—with a population of 28 million—, is fast becoming a technology hub. Tech companies are setting shop in Texas to take advantage of its tech-based education system. For instance, Rice University—a leading research university—sits in Houston, Texas. Other notable universities within the state include Trinity University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University.
No. 15
Massachusetts is a hub of top-ranked colleges and universities such as Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With higher education, choices abound with 121 higher education institutions within Massachusetts. Overall, Massachusetts’ education system was ranked top among all states.
No. 16
Tennessee makes it to the Bold Business List of Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality. The state holds the highest 2-year higher education graduation rate at 57 percent. Moreover, the state offers a wide variety of educational facilities for higher education across the state. Vanderbilt University, Belmont University and Welch College are some of the top higher educational institutions within the state.
No. 17
Ohio’s higher education system includes 120 institutions offering 4-year higher education and 65 institutions offering 2-year higher education. Ohio’s extensive higher education system includes 13 state universities, 46 private colleges and universities, 24 university branches, and six state-assisted medical schools. Clearly, Ohio can offer so much when it comes to higher education.
No. 18
Michigan takes the eighteenth spot in the Bold Business List of Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality. The University of Michigan is a top-ranked university in published lists and is one of the 65 institutions offering 4-year higher education within the state. Michigan is the center of the automotive industry in the country. Michigan is an excellent fit for students looking to explore a career in the transportation and automotive industry.
No. 19
Vermont has 48 institutions offering 2-year higher education and has a 4-year graduation rate of 72.8 percent. Such numbers helped Vermont earn a spot in the Bold Business List of Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality.
No. 20
Connecticut consistently ranks in most published college and university rankings. This case is not surprising as the state has a 4-year higher education graduation rate of 64 percent. Also, 47 percent of its population are college-educated. The Constitution State is also home to some of the most prestigious higher education institutions, namely Yale University, Wesleyan University and Fairfield University.
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What Went Wrong with Popular Colleges and Universities Rankings

Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality Infographic

Top 20 States Ranked by Education Quality Infographic

The U.S. News and World Report, QS World University Ranking, and Times Higher Education World University Ranking are some of the most popular systems that rank the best colleges in the country. Families trying to decide which best colleges and universities to pursue refer to these rankings for guidance. While these rankings offer a good starting point in trimming down choices, they have unfortunately become instruments for the commodification of education. Each of these established rankings follows different methods, unregulated approaches and matrices in determining which best colleges in the country makes it to their list.

  • For instance, the U.S. News and World Report ranking uses an extensive set of criteria which include graduation and retention rate, class size, faculty ratio, peer-to-peer assessment, and results of standardized test, to name a few.
  • The Times Higher Education Ranking, on the one hand, chooses to give equal weight to Learning Environment, Research Efforts, and Research Citation and Influence.
  • Lastly, QS Ranking gives Academic reputation and Employer Reputation the most significant weight at 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Furthermore, QS Ranking also looks at the university’s international research network, faculty and student ratio, and teaching staff and student diversity.

It’s Time for A Bold Change

Without doubt, the best colleges and universities rankings have been adeptly positioned as the authority in the space. And stakeholders in the academic field are not underestimating the undeniable influence of these rankings. While these rankings have established influence in the field of higher education, they are veritably part of a mostly unregulated system. With the society’s overreliance on these rankings, isn’t it time for a paradigm shift?

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