EDU in Review News Blog

USA Falling Behind in College Attainment Rates

Two years ago, President Obama announced plans to make the USA a leading country in the international education race by 2020. Many people were excited for this hope to become reality, but it seems like we might be slipping farther away from our goal.

According to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, less Americans are completing their college education than young adults in other countries. This has made us fall from 12th to 16th place in the share of young adults (ages 25-34) who have earned a degree. The countries who are leading the race in this younger demographic are South Korea, Canada, and Japan.

Why is America slipping behind other countries in college attainment rates? There are two explanations for this. One is that more and more people are attending college in Asia and Europe than ever before. Another factor is that these foreign nations focus on education degrees that take less time to complete; instead of the four-year plans that many college in the USA follow, colleges in other countries offer many one-year or two-year degree plans.

“Most of these countries are moving ahead and we are stuck in neutral” said Jamie Merisotis, chief executive of the Lumina Foundation, a company that advocates higher education reform.

Andreas Schleicher is the head of the Indicators and Analysis Division of theĀ  Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. Schleicher takes a more positive view than Merisotis does concerning why America is slipping behind.

“We don’t have any evidence that anything is getting worse in the United States,” he said. “It is just that there is a great deal of dynamism all over the world, and many countries are catching up.”

Sadly, this new report makes it seem pretty unlikely that the USA will regain the lead of college attainment levels by 2020, as President Obama had hoped. The last time the USA was in the lead was in the 1970s, more than 30 years ago. Although the number of Americans who had earned a college degree rose 5 percent between 1998 and 2009, this is still very little when compared with Japan (11 percent increase) or Canada (10 percent increase).

Via The Washington Post






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