Education – The United States Compared to Other OECD Countries

Reader Empiricman sends me a link to an OECD report entitled Education at a Glance 2006: OECD Briefing Note for the United States. Some points…

Research shows the important role that education plays in achieving economic success with OECD figures estimating that the long-term effect on economic output of one additional year of education generally lies been 3% and 6%.

In most OECD countries, a child at the age of five can now expect to undertake between 16 and 21 years of education during his or her lifetime either full or part-time, if present patterns of participation continue. Australia and the United Kingdom, at 20.7 years, show the highest educational expectancy among OECD countries, while in the United States a five year old can expect almost 4 years of education less than that during his/her lifetime.

Changes over time in the attainment rates of a country can be approximated by comparing the attainment rates for older and younger age groups. With 36% of 55-to-64 year-olds in 2003 having completed a tertiary qualification, the United States had the highest tertiary education attainment in the period 35 to 45 years ago, just ahead of Canada with 35%. No other country was above 27%. The United States’rate of 39% for 25-to-34 year olds reveals only a small synthetic growth over the intervening 30 years during which Canada (53%), Japan (52%), Korea (49%) have all grown well clear while Sweden (42%), Belgium (41%) and Ireland (40%) now also surpass the tertiary attainment level of the United States. In rank, the United States has slipped from 1st to equal 7th of OECD countries

Although the graduation rate for the United States increased slightly over this period, from 33% to 34%, other countries rates’ grew faster with the result that the graduation rate for the United States in 2004 was slightly below the OECD average and well below the highest rates of over 45% reported by Australia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand and Norway… It should be noted that the graduation rate provides a measure of the quantitative output of education systems and does not allow inferences as regarding to the quality of competences acquired by degree holders.

Rates of current participation suggest that even more countries are likely to catch up and surpass the United States graduation rates. The increase in tertiary enrolment between 1995 and 2003, which will influence future graduation rates in the United States, was, at 21%, considerably below the OECD average level of 38%

Comparatively high drop out rates in the United States are contributing to the United States’ relative standingagainst other countries. On average across OECD countries some 70% of those who enter tertiary-type A programmes go on to successfully graduate. The “survival rate” for the United States is however one of the lowest of OECD countries for which data are reported, with only just over 50% of the entry cohort achieving graduation, similar to the rate for Mexico and New Zealand

While countries like Japan and Korea are projected to increase their share of the tertiary graduates in the OECD, the share held by the United States is projected to fall from 41% to 36% over the next ten years

The contrast is even more pronounced when comparing the current output of high schools: The proportion of the typical age cohort graduating from upper secondary education in 2004 was 90% or more in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Korea and Norway. At 75%, the graduation rate for the United States was below the OECD average of 81%

Results relating to 2003 from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have previously highlighted the comparatively poor performance in mathematical proficiency, on average, of 15-year-olds in the United States’. Out of the 30 OECD countries taking part in PISA 2003, the average performance for the United States was statistically significantly higher only than that of five countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Mexico and Turkey) and statistically lower than that of 20 countries.

The United States invests more than any other country per child at the pre-primary level (at US$ 7,755) considerably more than the OECD average spending per child of US$ 4,508). And yet, the United States has one of the lowest rates of participation amongst under 5-year-olds in education. The rate of participation of 4-year olds and under as a percentage of the 3-to-4-year-old population in 2004 stands at only 53%, below the OECD average of 66% and well below the highest rates of participation, many of which are approaching 100%

As Empiricman notes:

America has more graduates per capita than most other nations… but only because of Americans educated 40 years ago. It seems the US used to have the highest graduation rates in the world, but in the last couple decades, everyone else caught up and passed us. In fact, the current enrollment and completion rates are below average. The dropout rates are now the highest in the OECD, on par with Mexico.