The Best Colleges and Universities for Becoming a US Governor

Suppose you want to become the governor of one of America’s 50 states. What are the best schools to attend to achieve that goal? One way to approach this question is to consider what schools offer the best academic programs for running a large political body. Schools with top departments in law, political science, and business would thus come to the fore.

The Best Colleges and Universities for Becoming a US Governor

Instead, in this article, we take a more direct approach: where do the nation’s governors in fact end up going to school? In deciding to attend the schools that they actually do attend, where do they vote with their feet so that we in turn will vote for them?

As it is, it is easy to find the list of all current governors and to see where they went to school. We will work off of such a list. Along the way, we’ll describe not only where the governors end up going to school but also the salient patterns associated with their higher educational choices. Although we could have considered the full range of governors for each state going back in time, to keep things simple we focus in this article only on those governors who are currently in office.

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Preference for In-State

The first obvious pattern that strikes us in looking at where US governors went to school is the degree to which they are loyal to their state. Of our 50 governors, only 13 did not go to a college or university in their state. Flip it around, and that means 37 of our governors got at least some of their education in the states in which they are governors.

In fact, the degree to which the higher education of our US governors is homegrown is even starker than these numbers suggest. Three additional governors went to schools in states that were close by:

  1. Rhode Island, which is the smallest state, is just next to Massachusetts, with its plethora of schools. The Rhode Island governor Daniel McKee attended Assumption College and Harvard University in this adjoining state.
  2. New Jersey, which is likewise a small state, saw its governor Phil Murphy attended the University of Pennsylvania, which is just next door.
  3. New Hampshire, which like Rhode Island is next to Massachusetts, saw its governor Chris Sununu attend MIT.

So, if we take into account proximity, a full 40 US governors, or 80 percent of them, ended up attending schools in-state or next door. This can hardly be accidental.

But the in-state loyalty of governors cuts even deeper. We can ask how many of the governors that attended schools within their state only attended schools within their state? Many or our governors not only received a bachelor’s degree but also went on to graduate studies. In fact, 20 of our governors attended schools only in their state.

Of those governors that went on to graduate school, 9 got their entire college and university education within their state. Wisconsin’s Tony Evers in fact got all 3 of his degrees (BA, MA, and PhD) in-state from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

What about going international? In fact, only one governor attended a school outside the US: Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf, who received an MPhil from the University of London.

Major and Degree Preferences

Among current American governors, STEM majors and degrees are in the sharp minority. This is not to say that science, technology, engineering, and math are completely lacking:

  1. Montana’s Greg Gianforte, New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu, and Tennessee’s Bill Lee each got a bachelor’s of engineering.
  2. Nebraska’s Pete Ricketts and Virginia’s Ralph Northam each got a bachelor’s in biology, with Northam going on to get an MD (the only medical doctor among our current governors).

But on the whole, US governors focused their education on non-STEM fields.

At the undergraduate level, the most popular major was business and economics, followed closely by political and social science. A distant third was education.

At the graduate level, law dominated. There are 17 US governors with JDs. Next in line was business. There are 9 US governors with MBAs or MPAs. The remaining 6 governors who got graduate degrees were spread among a variety of fields.

Thirty-two governors thus ended up going to graduate school and getting a graduate degree. That leaves 18 governors who did not go to graduate school. So it appears that other things being equal, it probably helps to have a graduate degree (especially in law) if you’re going to become a US governor.

Is there any governor who did not even go to college? There’s one: Missouri’s Mike Parson.

The Role of Elite Schools

When governors attended schools in-state, they tended toward the big flagship state universities or their main state rivals (fans of one school, of course, regarding theirs as the flagship and the other as the rival!).

For instance, Alabama’s Kay Ivey attended Auburn, Georgia’s Brian Kemp the University of Georgia, Iowa’s Kim Reynolds Iowa State University, Texas’ Greg Abbott the University of Texas at Austin, and Washington’s Jay Inslee the University of Washington — to name but a few. (See the data at the end of this article for how pervasive this pattern is.)

Many of these flagship state schools are world-class universities in their own right. Nonetheless, we can also ask about the elite private universities to which the US governors were attracted. Here are the schools arranged in order of the number of governors who attended them:

Elite Private Universities Attended by Governors
RankSchool# of Governors
#1Harvard University5 governors
#2-6Dartmouth University2 governors
#2-6Massachusetts Institute of Technology2 governors
#2-6Northwestern University2 governors
#2-6Vanderbilt University2 governors
#2-6Yale University2 governors
#7-11Duke University1 governor
#7-11Princeton University1 governor
#7-11Stanford University1 governor
#7-11University of Chicago1 governor
#7-11University of Pennsylvania1 governor

Harvard clearly leads the pack with 5 governors, the next five schools being tied with 2 governors apiece, and the final five schools being tied with 1 governor apiece.

It’s worth noting that some double counting occurs in this ranking. In fact, there are not 20 but 14 governors who attended elite private universities. This means that 6 of the governors attended elite schools at both the undergraduate and graduate level. These are:

  • Connecticut’s Ned Lamont (Harvard undergrad, Yale grad)
  • Florida’s Ron DeSantis (Yale undergrad, Harvard grad)
  • Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker (Duke undergrad, Northwestern grad)
  • Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker (Harvard undergrad, Northwestern grad)
  • New Jersey’s Phil Murphy (Harvard undergrad, UPenn grad)
  • Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf (Dartmouth undergrad, MIT grad)

Given how widely the Ivy League is represented in the education of US presidents, these last listed governors (perhaps leaving off Pritzker) may be politicians to watch in upcoming presidential elections!

The Data

Here are the data on which the analysis in this article is based:

Schools Attended by Governors in Each State
StateGovernorSchoolDegreeGrad SchoolGrad Degree
AlabamaKay IveyAuburn UniversityBA
AlaksaMike DunleavyMisericordia UniversityBAUniversity of Alaska FairbanksMEd
ArizonaDoug DuceyArizona State UniversityBS (finance)
ArkansasAsa HutchinsonBob Jones UniversityBAUniversity of ArkansasJD
CaliforniaGavin NewsomSanta Clara UniversityBS (finance)
ColoradoJared PolisPrinceton UniversityAB
ConnecticutNed LamontHarvard UniversityBAYale UniversityMBA
DelawareJohn CarneyDartmouth CollegeBAUniversity of DelawareJD
FloridaRon DeSantisYale UniversityBAHarvard UniversityJD
GeorgiaBrian KempUniversity of GeorgiaBS (ag)
HawaiiDavid IgeUniversity of Hawaiʻi at MānoaBSMBA
IdahoBrad LittleUniversity of IdahoBS (ag)
IllinoisJ.B. PritzkerDuke UniversityBA (polysci)Northwestern UniversityJD
IndianaEric HolcombHanover CollegeBA
IowaKim ReynoldsIowa State UniversityBA
KansasLaura KellyBradley UniversityBS (psych)Indiana University BloomingtonMS
KentuckyAndy BeshearVanderbilt UniversityBA (polysci)University of VirginiaJD
LouisianaJohn Bel EdwardsUnited States Military AcademyBSLouisiana State UniversityJD
MaineJanet MillsUniversity of Massachusetts BostonBAUniversity of MaineJD
MarylandLarry HoganFlorida State UniversityBA (polysci)
MasssachusettsCharlie BakerHarvard UniversityABNorthwestern UniversityJD
MichiganGretchen WhitmerMichigan State UniversityBA (comm)
MinnesotaTim WalzChadron State CollegeBS (socsci)Minnesota State University, MankatoMS
MississippiTate ReevesMillsaps CollegeBA (econ)
MissouriMike Parson
MontanaGreg GianforteStevens Institute of TechnologyBEng (eng)MS
NebraskaPete RickettsUniversity of ChicagoBA (bio)MBA
NevadaSteve SisolakUniversity of Wisconsin–MilwaukeeBS (bus)University of Nevada, Las VegasMBA
New HampshireChris SununuMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyBS (eng)
New JerseyPhil MurphyHarvard UniversityAB (econ)University of PennsylvaniaMBA
New MexicoMichelle Lujan GrishamUniversity of New MexicoBA
New YorkAndrew CuomoFordham UniversityBAAlbany Law SchoolJD
North CarolinaRoy CooperUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillBA
North DakotaDoug BurgumNorth Dakota State UniversityBAStanford UniversityMBA
OhioMike DeWineMiami UniversityBA (ed)Ohio Northern UniversityJD
OklahomaKevin StittOhio State UniversityBS (bus)
OregonKate BrownUniversity of Colorado BoulderBA (enviro)Lewis & Clark CollegeJD
PennsylvaniaTom WolfDartmouth CollegeBA (polysci)Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyPhD
Rhode IslandDaniel McKeeAssumption CollegeBAHarvard UniversityMPA
South CarolinaHenry McMasterUniversity of South CarolinaBA
South DakotaKristi NoemSouth Dakota State UniversityBA
TennesseeBill LeeAuburn UniversityBS (eng)
TexasGreg AbbottUniversity of Texas at AustinBBA (bus)Vanderbilt UniversityJD
UtahSpencer CoxUtah State UniversityBA (polysci)Washington and Lee UniversityJD
VermontPhil ScottUniversity of VermontBS (ed)
VirginiaRalph NorthamVirginia Military InstituteBS (bio)Eastern Virginia Medical SchoolMD
WashingtonJay InsleeUniversity of WashingtonBA (econ)Willamette UniversityJD
West VirginiaJim JusticeMarshall UniversityBAMBA
WisconsinTony EversUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonBA (ed)MA, PhD
WyomingMark GordonMiddlebury CollegeBA (hist)