The World Is Becoming More Educated Than The U.S.

more educated than U.S.Education is critical to the future of the U.S. economy, something that President Obama hammered home to the American public in his recent speech about the American Jobs Act, which proposes to renovate over 35,000 schools. Hovering over much of the president's rhetoric is the specter of ascendant emerging economies. "Just recently, China became the home to the world's largest private solar research facility," Obama said gravely in his State of the Union address this year, "and the world's fastest computer."

Today the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released some hard numbers that confirm this startling decline of the West and the rise of the rest. Although the West that's declining is almost exclusively America.

The United States, with only 5 percent of the world's population, is still home to over a quarter of the world's college graduates, according to the OECD's "Education at a Glance 2011." This triumphant statistic is less comforting, however, when you break it down by age. A smaller percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds in the United States are as educated as their 55-to-64-year-old parents, while the rest of the world's young people are earning college degrees in ever-higher numbers. As a result, America has experienced a striking relative decline. An astounding 36 percent of 55-to-64-year-olds with a higher education are in the United States, but only 21 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds with higher degrees do the same.

Among young people, the U.S. is now 15th among the 34 countries that the OECD studied, when it comes to higher education. And it scrapes the bottom when it comes to college graduates aged 25 to 34 who are entering science-related fields, with under half as many as No. 1 South Korea. And adding to the problem, high school graduation rates in America are below the OECD average.

Of course, much of this is because the U.S. had high rates to begin with: Over 40 percent of its baby boomers have a college degree. America had less space to grow, just like Israel -- a country that has similarly stagnated. In contrast, the percentage of Koreans between 55 and 64 with a higher education is in the teens, with lots of room for improvement.

It's just startling that Korea's improvement has vastly overtaken American numbers: 60 percent of young Koreans are now earning tertiary degrees. Other countries with longtime high college graduation rates, like Canada and Russia, have managed to maintain their growth.

"There's no decline in the supply of well-educated people," said Matthias Rumpf, a U.S. spokesman for the OECD. "And if you look at the universities overall, at least on the upper tier, the universities in the U.S. are among the best in the world. But the situation is changing. There will be more people outside the U.S. with similar levels of education."

The charts tell a worrying story: The world is getting more educated, and the United States is not. As the OECD writes, "tertiary graduation rates indicate a country's capacity to produce workers with advanced, specialized knowledge and skills." With the economy globalizing, U.S. workers are increasingly competing against Irish, Danish and Korean workers too, and if these trends continue, the competitive edge that made the 20th century "the American Century," may slip as we continue into the 21st.

There are a litany of reasons for American students to pursue higher education, and for the American public to encourage them to do so. A college graduate will earn, on average, 79 percent more than his degree-less peer, contributing $190,000 more to the U.S. government coffers over his lifetime.

Looking at the data, a college education in the U.S. is a great investment, according to Rumpf, even though it's one of the more expensive higher education systems in the world. "That high upfront investment might actually prevent people who don't have the financial means," he said. And that's a whole other problem.



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Claire Gordon

Staff Writer

Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.

Follow Claire on Twitter. Email Claire at claire.gordon@teamaol.com. Add Claire to your Google+ circles.

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Neelan Joachimpillai

It is because of the cost of education in the United States. It is higher than any other country in the world.

November 02 2011 at 6:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Riturocks

Nice post Claire :)

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October 10 2011 at 5:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
annyperl

Unfortunately, these facts are not new.. It's a well-known fact that level of education among Americans is quite lower than in other countries (although, US is the only country that has the largest amount of Noble prize nominees). I really do not know what's wrong. No matter the fact there are many complaints about education in the United States (http://www.pissedconsumer.com/consumer-reviews/education.html), a lot of American universities still remain one of the most respected. I think reducing the amount of junk TV shows and implementing more DISCOVERY like programs will somehow improve the situation.

September 17 2011 at 4:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Darrell

No sooner than President Obama passes or talks about the kids and their education, teachers, and from many different states fire hundreds and thousands of teachers. Just as soon as president Obama passes on the American Job Bill onto the Republicans, a MAJOR contract for Boeing for the building of the Dream Something or another (787 Boeing Airliner) was declined or told NO. This because of South Carolina's "Right To Work State" versus the northern states having unions. Well now lets be politically correct here! To hell with hundreds of jobs that would be created. Then you have President Obama talking about certain months with an increase of jobs that his cabinet is creating when actually the jobs came from the End of your beginning of year tax preparer jobs. It's time for a cool, cool change!

September 15 2011 at 2:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bhtxd004

little johnny can't read or write but he can hook up the 'puter, get to level 7 and save the princess, and he can send 15,000 texts a month in a language no one can understand. Dumbing down the American people is part of the master plan outlined in 1958 in a book entitled " the naked communist" education wise to take over professing liberal and socialistic values, push seperation of church and state, once you see what is in this book you will see we have lost and they did not fire one shot

September 15 2011 at 1:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bhtxd004

The Japanese peged us right, we are a bunch of fat lazy Americans with our hands out, 56% of you voted for Obama now just how educated is that? Geez half of you that post on here can't even spell, I guess the ACORN people showed you where to put your "X" on the voter registration card.

September 15 2011 at 1:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
charlie4562r

For the reverendsyn2
Union teachers, big part of the problem. Ever wonder why when a charter school opens up in a neighborhood that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of parents that line up to get their kids into those schools. Simple answer, they want their children to get a first class education removed from the incompetence of the union teacher mentality. Why the liberal socialist progressives think we need to have breakfast, lunch and dinner at schools is beyond me. We never had any of that nanny crap when I went to school. In fact, when I went to school, I think comparatively, a high school education was on par with what you end up after 4 years of college today. Re class size, I see it in my neighborhood. We have a primary school right across the street from our house. The demographics have changed drastically. During the school year, I see young children dropped off at a neighbors house (not just one or two or three families children but sometimes more). Funny, they aren't there during the summer, you never see them. Class size, you explain that one to me. The imported children are all Hispanic. I'm sort of suspicious if the address is used in exchange for $$$, just to get the Hispanic children into this school. Oh well, I think you must be a Reverend looking at your sign in, could it be that this is a scam and part of their religious training. Cheat our own children out of classroom space, obtain food stamps, lie for welfare, just a mother with no father, etc. etc. This in not a Republican or Democrat issue, it's an issue that involves, lying and cheating, again an integral part of their religious training! Americans do compete in a global market, sort of sad when a large company like Jeffrey Immelt's GE, in partnership with NObama, sends so many jobs to China and pays no taxes. Sure hope this didn't cheat your children out of a job! You need to pray that more rich come to your church and deposit bigger offerings so that you can join the prosperity gospel club!

September 15 2011 at 1:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
reverendsyn2

In trusting the Presidency to Obama is not the problem with American education. Charlie, Obama has been in office less than 3 years and if we removed every Republican in government America would keep up with and surpass every other country in the world. Since Reagan started attacking the middle class and started cutting education, did away with union teachers in most states. Increasing class size, coming up with 0 tolerance for children, ya get rid if kids for being kids. Cut food programs in school. If one word can say what has happened to education in America it would be REPUBLICANS. Look at WI and Scott Walker, he gives billions away to his buddies the Koch brothers and where does he get that money from? OUR KIDS= education. If we ever want America to become as smart as the rest of the world we have to stop electing stupid Republicans to office. American workers now have to compete in a global market, to do that we have got to start spending more money on education, health and welfare and less on give away programs to the rich. Like it or not but what is killing America is we don't spend enough on our future and keep allowing Republicans to waist it on people and things we do not need.

September 15 2011 at 12:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jay

Maybe if the eucation system stuck to the basics and quit teaching all of the PC crap our system might improve.

September 15 2011 at 12:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
charlie4562r

The following pretty much sums it up!!
“The danger to America is not Barack Obama but a citizenry capable of entrusting an inexperienced man like him with the Presidency. It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a man for their president. The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails America. Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The Republic can survive a Barack Obama. It is less likely to survive a multitude of Idiots such as those who made him their president."

September 14 2011 at 11:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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