Hawaii may not hold onto every bright student, but it’s attracting enough educated people to make up the difference.

Despite concerns over the quality of Hawaii’s public schools and the prevalent theory that the best and the brightest are fleeing the islands for a better life on the mainland, the state is more than holding its own in terms of educational attainment, according to Civil Beat’s analysis of new Census data.

About half of Hawaii’s 131 towns can claim that more than 90 percent of residents 25 years of age and over have high school degrees. At the top of the list are military installations, which makes sense because the Armed Forces generally require a high school diploma to enlist.

All of Barbers Point Housing’s estimated 44 residents have high school diplomas, ranking it No. 1 in the American Community Survey, compiled from 2005-2009. The release of the survey in December made it possible for the first time in 10 years to look at data for communities smaller than 20,000 people.1

Hickam Housing (99.1 percent of 2,819) and Kaneohe Station (98.6 percent of 3,374) rank second and third in the state. Pakala Village and Kaumakani on Kauai, Haliimaile on Maui, Waipahu on Oahu and Pahoa on the Big Island have the lowest proportions of resident high school graduates. View the Full Table by Civil Beat.

Of 865,527 Hawaii residents at least 25 years old, 89.5 percent hold a high school degree, better than the national rate of 84.6 percent, the American Community Survey shows. Only nine states can boast higher rates.

Hawaii is also ahead of the rest of the nation in the percent of residents holding Bachelor’s Degrees (29.2 percent to 27.5 percent), though it’s slightly behind in the proportion holding Master’s, Professional and Doctorate degrees (9.7 percent versus 10.1 percent).

State Pop. 25+ Percent
High School
Rank Percent
Minnesota 3,403,202 91.1% 1 31.2% 10.0%
Wyoming 339,475 91.1% 2 23.2% 7.7%
Alaska 419,058 90.7% 3 26.5% 9.5%
Iowa 1,948,253 89.6% 9 24.2% 7.4%
Hawaii 865,527 89.5% 10 29.2% 9.7%
Washington 4,289,438 89.4% 11 30.8% 10.9%
Kentucky 2,825,618 80.3% 48 20.0% 8.1%
Texas 14,722,918 79.3% 49 25.4% 8.3%
Mississippi 1,842,950 78.9% 50 19.1% 6.7%

Source: Civil Beat analysis of American Community SurveyFull Table

Hawaii, like the rest of the country, has seen the level of education rise over the past 10 years. In the islands, the percentage of residents with high school degrees rose 5.8 percent between the 2000 Census and the American Community Survey. In the same time, the percent of Bachelor’s Degree-holding residents rose 11.5 percent and the percentage of Master’s, Professional and Doctorate degree-holders rose 15.1 percent. (View the Full Table by Civil Beat.)

The increase will continue in coming decades if young people continue their education at a higher clip than generations before them. Nearly 95 percent of Hawaii residents between 25 and 34 are high school graduates compared to 76 percent for those 65 years and older.2 View the Full Table by Civil Beat.

While equipping students with degrees is a major goal of the Hawaii public education system, not all degree-holders in Hawaii were born here and went to school here. In fact, nearly half of the state’s residents were born elsewhere.

Still, it bodes well that many of Hawaii’s working-age residents have diplomas. The trend is moving in the right direction.

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