America’s Higher Education Rate


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s annual report on education across the world came out recently. America continues to lose ground. According to an article by Ariel Zirulnick in the Christian Science Monitor:

The US is losing its competitive edge over other countries when it comes to the percentage of the population with higher education degrees, The rate of enrollment of US students in higher education is now lower than most other OECD countries, said Andreas Schleicher, the head of indicators and analysis at the OECD.

While the US still boasts the largest percentage of people with college degrees (26 percent), the rate at which other countries are catching up is evident once the population is broken down into age cohorts, as shown in the OECD’s 2011 “Education at a Glance” report, released Monday.

To a certain extent this makes sense. Part of the reason America was on top in the first place was because there were, in the middle of the twentieth century, few countries that offered widespread higher education to citizens. Now there are many. That’s a positive development.

But one of the reasons that America is now falling behind is simply the price of college. As the report explained, the reason has to do with the high cost, and low public investment, in higher education. The U.S. has the highest tuition in all the OECD countries. It doesn’t have the lowest public investment, but it has an odd (and perhaps inefficient) form of public investment. And its total public spending is on the level of counties with much cheaper total tuition.

The United States did not increase public higher education spending per student at all between 2000 and 2008. Many other countries hiked spending by more than 50 percent.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer