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The Best State for Grads

North Dakota is the best state for graduates, in terms of average starting salary, post-college debt levels, and job availability.

A new study by Venture Smarter ranked the best and worst states for graduates based on how they perform for entry-level earning potential, college degree value, the burden of student debt, and entry-level job opportunities.


North Dakota scored the highest with an overall score of 8.8 out of ten. The state had the lowest average student debt at $28,604 per person. Additionally, North Dakota’s starting salary of $43.200 is significantly higher than the state’s $31.900 living wage, which means entry-level workers typically don’t have to take on a second job to cover essential expenses such as rent, groceries, or bills.

The state also demonstrated strong performance in terms of graduate job prospects, with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating that 12% of the local workforce falls within the graduate age range. Additionally, there has been a notable 6.5% increase in job openings in the state this year.

Idaho ranked second highest with a score of 8.7 out of ten, with high scores in earning potential. The state has one of the highest average graduate salaries at $50,941 – 52% higher than its $33.600 living wage.


Pennsylvania was named the worst states for grads in the ranking, mostly due to the state’s high financial burden and high tuition costs. The average Pennsylvania student has $35,385 in debt and the typical tuition costs $14.5k in Pennsylvania, which is 43% higher than the national average ($10K). Graduation rates are also low at 32%.

Degree value, which considers the average tuition fees and college graduation rate, was poor for nearly every state. West Virginia, however, ranked the poorest in this category with a 21% graduation rate—the lowest overall.


Venture Smarter analyzed data gathered from the National Centre for Educational Statistics, the World Population Review, ZipRecruiter, the Education Data Initiative, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The study’s methodology included the four following categories:

Degree value: Measured the average private and public tuition fees in each state, along with college graduation rates.

Earning potential: Compared average annual starting salaries and compared this to each state’s current living wage.

Financial burden: Measured by the average student loan debt reported per person

Job opportunities: Measured the rate of new job openings, and the proportion of each state’s workforce that are of graduate age (21-25).

Sources: Venture Smarter, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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