by Morgan Cullen
I recently stumbled upon information gathered on education levels of state legislators by Professor Adam Brown at Brigham Young University. Brown collected the data from Project Vote Smart (a nonpartisan organization that collects biographical information on elected officials) and shared the data with NCSL.
It turns out that 71 percent of state legislators nationwide have at least a bachelor's degree and 40 percent have an advanced degree on top of that. Given that 12 percent of the education data among state legislators is “unknown” it is impossible to know which state has the most educated legislature in the country.
However, it appears Virginia and California have the highest percentage of legislators with at least a bachelor's degree at 89 percent and 87 percent respectively.
Full-time legislatures have the largest percentage of legislators with at least a bachelor's degree at 79 percent, followed by hybrid legislatures at 73 percent and part-time legislatures at 66 percent. To learn more about these classifications you can check NCSL’s full-time/part-time web page here.
Regionally there is not a big difference in education levels among our nation’s legislators. The Southeast has the highest level of legislators with at least a four-year degree with 73 percent, followed by the Northeast and Midwest at 71 percent and the West and Southwest at 70 percent.
To help put these numbers into broader context, I found that while our state legislators have less formal education than our elected members of Congress (95 percent of the U.S. House and Senate have at least a four-year degree) they are much more educated than the total U.S. population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau: 2007 data, 1 in 4 (27 percent) of U.S. adults aged 25 or over reported a bachelor’s degree or higher. It turns out that Americans demand their representatives achieve a high-level of formal education before getting elected.
Here are some other interesting trivia from the data:
- The Ohio Legislature had the highest percentage of lawyers in the country with 32 percent of its legislators having acquired a Juris Doctorate.
- Oregon legislators have attained the largest number of master's degrees at 33 percent.
- The Nebraska Legislature has the largest number of legislators with a doctorate degree at 12 percent.
For more information on legislator education levels and other legislator demographic information please visit NCSL’s updated interactive map on our website.