U.S. falls behind in college competition: OECD

Tue Sep 9, 2014 1:10pm EDT
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By Liz Weston

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The United States has slipped behind many other countries in college completion and "educational mobility," with fewer young Americans getting more education than their parents, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's "Education at a Glance" report.

U.S. college graduation rates rank 19th out of 28 countries studied by the OECD, which tracks education investment and performance of wealthier democracies, said OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher.

The lack of educational mobility has serious implications for individuals and society, he noted. Higher education levels are associated not just with higher earnings, but also with better health, more community engagement and more trust in governments, institutions and other people.

"Raising educational attainment is not only giving countries more income but it is also creating a greater degree of social cohesion," Schleicher said. "Every business transaction [is founded] on trust. Trust in institutions is vital, trust in democracies. All of those aspects are vital for the functioning of societies."

In 2012, 39 percent of young Americans were expected to graduate from college, compared with 60 percent in Iceland, 57 percent in New Zealand and 53 percent in Poland. The U.S. graduation rate was ahead of Canada (35 percent), Germany (31 percent), Switzerland (31 percent), Spain (29 percent), Turkey (27 percent), Italy (26 percent), Chile (23 percent), Hungary (23 percent) and Mexico (22 percent).

In 1995, the United States was first among OECD member countries, with a 33 percent graduation rate. Since then, the average OECD college completion rate has grown from 20 percent to 38 percent as more countries focus on boosting the number of college graduates, Schleicher said.

About half of young people in OECD countries have at least matched their parents' level of education. But in the United States, a larger-than-average proportion had less education (so-called downward mobility) while a smaller-than-average population had more education (upward mobility).

Twenty-nine percent of American men and 17 percent of American women had less education than their parents, compared with the OECD average of 19 percent for men and 13 percent for women. Twenty percent of U.S. men and 27 percent of U.S. women had more education than their folks, compared with the OECD average of 28 percent and 36 percent, respectively.   Continued...

A graduate from Columbia University's Barnard College uses her a mobile phone to take a photo during the university's commencement ceremony in New York May 16, 2012. REUTERS/Keith Bedford