There are a few high-profile examples of chief executives who either didn’t go or didn’t finish college — most of whom started their own business. Michael Dell of Dell Inc. (DELL) never finished his stay at University of Texas, while Microsoft (MSFT) founder Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, as did Facebook’s (FB) Mark Zuckerberg.
But those folks are exceptions — not the rule.
In fact, every CEO that’s currently leading a Dow Jones company has earned at least an undergraduate degree.
With that in mind, we took a look at the current chief executives at companies in the Dow 30 and tallied up all the degrees they got in preparation for their current C-suite roles. Then, we sorted them by state to find out where today’s highest-ranking businessmen and women got the biggest chunk of their education. Take a look:
#5 (tie): California
Current Dow CEO Degrees: 3
California is the most populous state and the third-largest state by area, so it’s no wonder that at least a few Dow CEOs ended up going to school there. Heck, the Golden Coast has more than 100 universities and colleges.
John Watson earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of California at Davis in 1978. Less than three decades later, he was named CEO of Chevron (CVX). Meanwhile, Lowell McAdam earned his undergrad at Cornell, but then headed out west to get a master’s degree from the University of San Diego. Now, he is CEO of Verizon Communications (VZ).
Last but not least, Brian Krzanich got a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from San Jose State University in 1982 and now heads up Intel (INTC).
As a note, California has another thing going for it: Only half of college graduates in the state come away with debt, while the average load is $18,879. Both those figures are well below the national average.
#5 (tie): Indiana
Current Dow CEO Degrees: 3
When I think Indiana, Hoosiers basketball comes to mind before business. But the small Midwestern state is actually home to several of the nation’s top universities — not just decades ago when today’s head honchos were going to school, but now.
A prime example: Notre Dame, which is ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s top 20 this year. In fact, Brian Moynihan, the current CEO of Bank of America (BAC), is an alumnus of the university’s law school, which he attended after getting a history degree from Brown.
Head south a little, and you find the alma mater of current McDonald’s (MCD) CEO Don Thompson. Thompson graduated from Purdue University with a B.S. in electrical engineering — a far cry from managing the world’s largest restaurant chain, but still a solid educational base.
And going back to the Hoosiers, we can’t overlook Cisco (CSCO) CEO John Chambers. Chambers got his undergrad at West Virginia University but followed that up with an MBA in finance and management from Indiana University.
#3 (tie): Pennsylvania
Current Dow CEO Degrees: 4
Pennsylvania should be thanking current Travelers Co. (TRV) CEO Jay Fishman for helping it make this list. Fishman attended University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — not just for his undergraduate degree, but also for his graduate degree.
Then again, it’s hardly surprising that the Ivy League school cranked out more than one well-known executive. Another famous alumnus is Alex Gorsky, who got a master’s degree from the business school in 1996. A little more than a decade later, Gorsky is heading up multinational corporation Johnson & Johnson (JNJ).
The final name for the big box state: Merck (MCK) CEO Kenneth Frazier is a Nittany Lion. The Pennsylvania-native graduated from Penn State in 1975 with a BA in political science before heading to Harvard for law school.
#3 (tie): Illinois
Current Dow CEO Degrees: 4
Head west, and you have our next CEO-breeding locale: Illinois. Chevron head honcho John Watson, who also put a tally under Cali, moved on from UC Davis to get his MBA from the University of Chicago School of Business.
On top of that, Doug Oberhelman was born and raised in the state — his dad was a Deere & Co. (DE) salesman — and made his way to the little-known Millikin University for his undergraduate degree. Millikin is located in Decatur, Ill. and currently has only 2,400 students. Oberhelman took his small roots and did big things, though; he is currently chief of Caterpillar (CAT).
The most notable thing about the Prairie State, though, is its last two students: Ellen Kullman and Virginia Rometty. Women remain noticeably absent from the C-suite at most big-name corporations; Kullman and Rometty are two of only three CEOs for the entire Dow 30.
They both attended the same school — although at different times and with different degrees. Rometty finished up at Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and electrical engineering in 1979, while Kullman completed a master’s degree in management there four years later, only after getting an engineering degree from Tufts University.
#2: New York
Current Dow CEO Degrees: 6
Next up, New York takes home the silver — and also stands out because it has the widest variety of schools responsible. While the Empire State was responsible for the schooling of six different execs, they all came from different institutions.
The least surprising schools on the list: Ivy League schools Columbia and Cornell. The former was where current Home Depot (HD) head honcho Frank Blake attended law school, while the latter taught Verizon big gun Lowell McAdam about engineering for undergrad.
Other big names from New York include JNJ’s Alex Gorsky, who attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and spent six years in the Army before heading to Wharton; Disney’s (DIS) Robert Iger, who got a bachelor’s from Ithaca; and UnitedHealth Group’s (UNH) Stephen Hemsley, who graduated from Fordham University.
The sixth name is a bit slippery, but it seemed worthy of at least noting: Don Thompson also received an honorary degree from Excelsior College in Albany.
Another good thing to note for future CEOs looking to go to college: Out of the six states on this list, New York’s average graduating debt load is the second-lowest, and slightly below the national average.
Current Dow CEO Degrees: 11
Our top state for Dow leaders is also the smallest on this list, but size doesn’t matter because the New England state is home to Harvard.
The laundry list of Crimson grads includes folks with bachelor’s degrees, law degrees and business degrees — all of whom now run things at a Dow Jones component.
Home Depot’s Frank Blake and Microsoft’s for-now CEO Steve Ballmer attended the school for undergraduate studies, while American Express’ (AXP) Ken Chenault and Merck’s Ken Frazier both were students at the law school.
Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard’s (HPQ) Meg Whitman went to Princeton for undergrad, but followed it up by attending Harvard Business School. And she wasn’t alone. Boeing’s (BA) James McNermy, Procter & Gamble’s (PG) A.G. Lafley, General Electric’s (GE) Jeff Immelt and JPMorgan’s (JPM) Jamie Dimon also attended.
Plus, Jamie Dimon double-dipped on Massachusetts schools. Before heading to Harvard Business, he got an undergraduate degree from nearby Tufts — the same place that DuPont’s (DD) Ellen Kullman calls her alma mater.
The only bad news: Harvard doesn’t come cheap. While many students get grants and scholarships, tuition alone will cost you nearly $39,000 for undergrad, $52,000 for law school and $56,000 for business school. And across the entire state, the average student debt load is slightly above the national average.
Then again, if you wind up running a blue-chip company one day, it’s seems pretty safe to say those student loans have paid off.