WASHINGTON Mostly rural states in the West and Midwest have the highest percentage of residents with high school diplomas, according to Census Bureau figures released Thursday.
Wyoming leads the nation with 90.2 percent of residents 25 and older having graduated from high school, followed by Utah at 90.1 percent, according to a 2002 survey. Minnesota, Alaska and Nebraska were next, each with rates of at least 89 percent.
''This seems to be more related with minority composition and levels of immigration in these states than an urban-rural phenomenon,'' said Mark Mather, an analyst with the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington-based research group. Whites tend to be more educated than blacks and Hispanics.
Mather said even urban areas in the top states typically had higher percentages of high school graduates than urban areas in states like California, Texas and Alabama, which have large minority populations.
A key for rural areas of the Midwest is to reverse the ''brain drain'' phenomenon, in which younger, more educated people leave for jobs in cities, said Mark Drabenstott, director of the Center for the Study of Rural America, in Kansas City, Mo.
''It's certainly a very common pattern for the last 30 or 40 years,'' he said. ''Farm kids from these states have gone to a university and never looked back.''
Mississippi has the lowest rate of adults with high school diplomas at 75 percent, more than 7 points below the U.S. average of 82.6 percent.
Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas and West Virginia had the next lowest rates. Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas are states with high minority populations, while Kentucky and West Virginia are in Appalachia, among the poorest regions in the country.
The data comes from the 2002 American Community Survey, which the government is testing as an annual replacement for the census ''long form'' sent out at the start of each decade.
Raleigh, N.C., had the highest percentage of high school graduates among cities with 250,000 or more people, 92 percent, followed by Seattle with 91.1 percent.
Some top locations had major universities in or near the city, such as Minneapolis and Lexington-Fayette, Ky., while others were close to major military installations, such as Colorado Springs, Colo. and Virginia Beach, Va.
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