These are the states with the highest student enrollment rates

Utah, Idaho, North Dakota, Arizona and California led the country with the highest rate of college-going individuals.

A new analysis by Wealth of Geeks has uncovered which states have the highest proportion of collegegoers relative to their population. The financial advice service analyzed 2023 enrollment figures from the National Student Clearinghouse and compared them to June 2023 population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, culled together by World Atlas, one of the largest publishing resources in geography and demography.

Utah, Idaho, North Dakota, Arizona and California led the country with the highest rate of college-going individuals. While California had by far the most students enrolled in college than any other state at over 2.1 million, Utah had the highest rate of statespeople attending at nearly 7%.

Rank State Undergrad enrollment 2023 % of population enrolled
1 Utah 230,980 6.83
2 Idaho 112,058 5.78
3 North Dakota 42,565 5.46
4 Arizona 399,387 5.43
5 California 2,113,108 5.41
6 Rhode Island 57,257 5.24
7 Kansas 151,109 5.14
8 Nebraska 98,474 5.00
9 Iowa 156,232 4.88
10 Vermont 30,604 4.73
11 Massachusetts 324,325 4.65
12 Maine 64,000 4.62
13 (tie) Texas 1,335,544 4.45
13 (tie) Kentucky 201,007 4.45
15 South Dakota 40,256 4.42

Research conducted by Wealth of Geeks.

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Can these states’ high college enrollment rates be tied to friendlier funding policies?

Michael Dinich, founder and CEO of Wealth of Geeks, believes each state’s enrollment reflects state policies supporting students on their postsecondary academic journey. Of the five states with the highest rate of college-going learners, four prove this is the case, especially regarding policies that provide higher rates of financial aid. 

Despite the mass drops in postsecondary enrollment across the U.S. since 2011, Utah has experienced gains in the past decade despite the pandemic, according to State Higher Education Finance (SHEF). While the state’s per-student budget allocation for education has been lower than the U.S. average, the amount of financial aid distributed to each full-time enrolled Utah student is better aligned with its overall percentage of appropriations. Furthermore, a 2022 policy brief from the University of Utah helped communicate how postsecondary education was conducive to higher lifetime earnings and better health outcomes for statespeople.

In Idaho, state public financial aid has increased by 215.2% per full-time enrolled students since 2001 and has increased by 288% compared to total education appropriations, according to SHEF. Likewise, North Dakota’s per-student education appropriations have been higher than U.S. state averages between 2011 and 2020. The North Dakota University System recently passed a nearly $800 million base budget for the 2023-23 biennium budget, an increase of 15.5%, Grand Forks Herald reports.

California may be the most shining example. While the rate of institutions forking over the costs of education to students via higher tuition rates has skyrocketed in the past four decades, California has maintained a lid. Specifically, California’s proportion of revenue depending on tuition is 18%; the U.S. average is 42%, according to SHEF. Additionally, California spent just over $21 billion in state funds to support its higher education institutions and financial aid system in the 2022-23 academic year, accounting for about 7% of the state’s budget, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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