Pedagogy: The Future of Higher Education—The United States in Comparative Perspective

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development last week released its Education at a Glance 2012 report. The annual report included a ranking of the “most educated” countries in the world. The top five were:

  1. Russia (54% of the adult population aged 25 to 64 hold a college degree).
  2. Canada (51%)
  3. Israel (46%)
  4. Japan (45%)
  5. The United States (42%)

Several items stand out about the United States’ rankings. First, while a relatively high proportion of its population has a college degree, the rate of growth in college degrees is relatively slow. The growth rate in post-secondary degree holders in the United States is increasing by about 1.3 percent per year, about 1/3 the OECD average growth rate of 3.7 percent, suggesting other countries could overtake the United States in the near future.

Second, while the United States ranks fifth overall, it falls to 14th if we only consider young adults (aged 24 to 34) with a college degree.

Finally, education remains unevenly distributed in the United States. We know that the likelihood of earning a college degree increases with the education level of the parents. Students whose parents hold a college degree are far more likely to earn a college degree themselves. However, in the United States this pattern is far more pronounced. Indeed, according to the report, the odds that a young person in the United States will be in higher education if his or her parents do not have a college degree is just 29 percent—one of the lowest levels among all OECD countries.

Finally, the OECD report notes that the individual cost of attaining a college degree in the United States is higher than in almost every other OECD country.

All interesting points to consider as we continue to discuss the future of higher education in the United States.

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