GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – North Carolina prides itself in the quality of its education – particularly on the college level – even as there is a never-ending debate about investment, salaries and outcomes for students.

But when it comes to a ranking of the most educated states in America, North Carolina is strictly second-division.

North Carolina Schools (WGHP/Getty Images)
North Carolina Schools (WGHP/Getty Images)

That was the finding of WalletHub, the financial consulting site that crunches data and spits out insights about myriad topics. North Carolina ranked No. 26 – yes, atop that second division – among the 50 states.

You may be aghast at that position, but to understand this ranking, you must grasp two basic statistical categories: Educational Attainment, which generally means how many people are graduating and earning degrees, and Quality of Education, which uses rankings of public schools as well as colleges and universities. More on those calculations later.

What we learned is that North Carolina actually benefited from being No. 13 for Quality of Education, and its overall rank was much better than almost all its surrounding states.

Source: WalletHub

Georgia was No. 32, followed by South Carolina (39), Tennessee (40) and West Virginia (50), but our state was way behind Virginia, which ranked No. 7, largely because it was fifth in Educational Attainment. Virginia still lagged behind NC in the quality of education, ranking 16th.

North Carolina also ranks higher overall than California, Pennsylvania and Texas but below Delaware and Montana. Among the rankings for Best Education, you might be surprised to hear that Delaware (No. 7) and Utah (12) ranked higher.

The overall Top 5 may include a surprise or two: Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Vermont and Colorado.

The Bottom 5 won’t (50-46): West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama.

Massachusetts ranked first for both Educational Attainment and Quality of Education.

Here’s how they did it

WalletHub used 18 metrics and created a weight for each under those two primary headings of Educational Attainment and Quality of Education. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale. The weighted average created the ranking.

In Educational Attainment, which was worth 60% of the overall score, educational accomplishments – high school graduation, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree – of adults at least 25 years old were weighted equally.

Quality of Education & Attainment Gap gave double weighting to the quality of a school system, so-called Blue Ribbon Schools and the quality of the university system. Test scores, AP exams and even voucher programs also figured in this score.

WalletHub also said that “in certain metrics where women showed an advantage over men and Black people over white people, we gave equal credit to the states with no gender/racial inequality.” That included gaps in degree attainment among Blacks.

Source: WalletHub

Impact of college rankings

Duke University (WGHP)

Although we love the quality of our universities, North Carolina didn’t fare that well. The top five states for Average University Quality, based in some part on the U.S. News & World Report rankings, were Massachusetts (think MIT and Harvard), Connecticut (think Yale), Rhode Island (think Brown), Wisconsin (think University of Wisconsin-Madison) and New Hampshire (think Dartmouth).

But WalletHub also used its own earlier ranking, published in October, that showed MIT, Yale, Cal Tech, Princeton and Harvard as the top colleges. Duke was No. 10, the only North Carolina school in the top 30 (though UNC-Chapel Hill and Davidson got props).

David Feldman, William & Mary (WALLETHUB)

We also know that some of our cities didn’t perform very well for overall education, but some did, too.

“Urban areas have been attracting people for well over a century in the US,” David H. Feldman, an economics professor at William & Mary, told WalletHub. “More recently, cities with above-average levels of educated workers have experienced the highest economic growth rates, and are thus magnets attracting talent and new industry. Most of those urban areas have or are near, concentrations of higher education institutions.”

 Why this is important

The General Assembly in North Carolina is debating now how to respond to court orders in a longstanding court case designed to bridge funding gaps for public school districts. The biennial budget that legislators ultimately adopt will address teacher pay, per-pupil allocations and other educational expenses. There also is the continuing demand for funding under the UNC System of colleges and universities.

Last week a bipartisan group of legislators formed the HBCU Caucus to educate their colleagues about the impact the state feels from its 10 historically Black colleges and universities. Not everyone has the information needed to make funding decisions, state Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro) said.

Jennie E. Brand, UCLA (WALLETHUB)

“State disinvestment in higher education is an extremely short-sighted strategy,” Jennie E. Brand, a sociology professor at UCLA, told WalletHub. “We need greater investment in higher education — such as building more colleges and making them more affordable — to meet student demand for education and meet employer demand for more educated and skilled workers.

“This is part of a broader economic development strategy to enrich states. But it is also part of a broader social policy. As we know that education is associated with far-ranging benefits, such as better health and more social and political participation, and less reliance on social assistance, we benefit collectivity from a more educated population.”