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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
|Rank||School||# of Governors|
|#1||Harvard University||5 governors|
|#2-6||Dartmouth University||2 governors|
|#2-6||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||2 governors|
|#2-6||Northwestern University||2 governors|
|#2-6||Vanderbilt University||2 governors|
|#2-6||Yale University||2 governors|
|#7-11||Duke University||1 governor|
|#7-11||Princeton University||1 governor|
|#7-11||Stanford University||1 governor|
|#7-11||University of Chicago||1 governor|
|#7-11||University of Pennsylvania||1 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:
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!
Here are the data on which the analysis in this article is based:
|State||Governor||School||Degree||Grad School||Grad Degree|
|Alabama||Kay Ivey||Auburn University||BA||—||—|
|Alaksa||Mike Dunleavy||Misericordia University||BA||University of Alaska Fairbanks||MEd|
|Arizona||Doug Ducey||Arizona State University||BS (finance)||—||—|
|Arkansas||Asa Hutchinson||Bob Jones University||BA||University of Arkansas||JD|
|California||Gavin Newsom||Santa Clara University||BS (finance)||—||—|
|Colorado||Jared Polis||Princeton University||AB||—||—|
|Connecticut||Ned Lamont||Harvard University||BA||Yale University||MBA|
|Delaware||John Carney||Dartmouth College||BA||University of Delaware||JD|
|Florida||Ron DeSantis||Yale University||BA||Harvard University||JD|
|Georgia||Brian Kemp||University of Georgia||BS (ag)||—||—|
|Hawaii||David Ige||University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa||BS||—||MBA|
|Idaho||Brad Little||University of Idaho||BS (ag)||—||—|
|Illinois||J.B. Pritzker||Duke University||BA (polysci)||Northwestern University||JD|
|Indiana||Eric Holcomb||Hanover College||BA||—||—|
|Iowa||Kim Reynolds||Iowa State University||BA||—||—|
|Kansas||Laura Kelly||Bradley University||BS (psych)||Indiana University Bloomington||MS|
|Kentucky||Andy Beshear||Vanderbilt University||BA (polysci)||University of Virginia||JD|
|Louisiana||John Bel Edwards||United States Military Academy||BS||Louisiana State University||JD|
|Maine||Janet Mills||University of Massachusetts Boston||BA||University of Maine||JD|
|Maryland||Larry Hogan||Florida State University||BA (polysci)||—||—|
|Masssachusetts||Charlie Baker||Harvard University||AB||Northwestern University||JD|
|Michigan||Gretchen Whitmer||Michigan State University||BA (comm)||—||—|
|Minnesota||Tim Walz||Chadron State College||BS (socsci)||Minnesota State University, Mankato||MS|
|Mississippi||Tate Reeves||Millsaps College||BA (econ)||—||—|
|Montana||Greg Gianforte||Stevens Institute of Technology||BEng (eng)||—||MS|
|Nebraska||Pete Ricketts||University of Chicago||BA (bio)||—||MBA|
|Nevada||Steve Sisolak||University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee||BS (bus)||University of Nevada, Las Vegas||MBA|
|New Hampshire||Chris Sununu||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||BS (eng)||—||—|
|New Jersey||Phil Murphy||Harvard University||AB (econ)||University of Pennsylvania||MBA|
|New Mexico||Michelle Lujan Grisham||University of New Mexico||BA||—||—|
|New York||Andrew Cuomo||Fordham University||BA||Albany Law School||JD|
|North Carolina||Roy Cooper||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||BA||—||—|
|North Dakota||Doug Burgum||North Dakota State University||BA||Stanford University||MBA|
|Ohio||Mike DeWine||Miami University||BA (ed)||Ohio Northern University||JD|
|Oklahoma||Kevin Stitt||Ohio State University||BS (bus)||—||—|
|Oregon||Kate Brown||University of Colorado Boulder||BA (enviro)||Lewis & Clark College||JD|
|Pennsylvania||Tom Wolf||Dartmouth College||BA (polysci)||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||PhD|
|Rhode Island||Daniel McKee||Assumption College||BA||Harvard University||MPA|
|South Carolina||Henry McMaster||University of South Carolina||BA||—||—|
|South Dakota||Kristi Noem||South Dakota State University||BA||—||—|
|Tennessee||Bill Lee||Auburn University||BS (eng)||—||—|
|Texas||Greg Abbott||University of Texas at Austin||BBA (bus)||Vanderbilt University||JD|
|Utah||Spencer Cox||Utah State University||BA (polysci)||Washington and Lee University||JD|
|Vermont||Phil Scott||University of Vermont||BS (ed)||—||—|
|Virginia||Ralph Northam||Virginia Military Institute||BS (bio)||Eastern Virginia Medical School||MD|
|Washington||Jay Inslee||University of Washington||BA (econ)||Willamette University||JD|
|West Virginia||Jim Justice||Marshall University||BA||—||MBA|
|Wisconsin||Tony Evers||University of Wisconsin–Madison||BA (ed)||—||MA, PhD|
|Wyoming||Mark Gordon||Middlebury College||BA (hist)||—||—|