Rural education levels are increasing, but still lag behind urban areas

A chart showing educational attainment in rural and urban areas, 2000 and 2016

Although the overall educational attainment of rural adults has increased markedly over time, the share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is still higher in urban areas. Between 2000 and 2016, the share of urban adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher grew from 26 percent to 33 percent, while in rural areas the share grew from 15 percent to 19 percent. This gap may be partly due to the higher pay premiums offered in urban areas to workers with college degrees. Also, between 2000 and 2016, the share of rural adults with less than a high school diploma or equivalent decreased from 24 percent to 14 percent. That decline closed the rural-urban gap in high school completion rates: over the same period, the share of urban adults without a high school degree or equivalent fell from 19 percent to 12 percent. This chart appears on the ERS topic page for Rural Education, updated August 2018.

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