U.S. college edge is shrinking

The U.S. leads the world in college-educated workers, but competitors are catching up, according to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study of developed countries. The U.S. is the only G-20  country in which new workers are less educated than those who are retiring, notes Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

“It’s not that the United States is doing worse; its that other countries are starting to do what the United States has been doing for a very long time,” said Andreas Schleicher, the head of the indicators and analysis division at the OECD’s Directorate for Education.

China’s young workers are much more educated than the older generation. And there are lots of them. In 2009, 36.6 percent of the world’s new college students were Chinese; 12.9 percent were American.



Schools will be blamed for America’s slide in competitiveness, predicts Walt Gardner on Reality Check. Pressure will increase to move to the business model of education, he adds.

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  1. China has almost one-fifth of the world’s population and the U.S. has only 4.5% so it’s almost inevitable that the Chinese share of college graduates is going to grow from 7% and the U.S. share shrink from 35%.

  2. Another factor is demographics.  Since 1965, the USA has been swamped with immigrants from third-world nations.  Whether or not they lose their original cultures, they don’t achieve as highly as the pre-1965 immigrants and the founding ethnic groups.

    • South and East Asians are among the fastest-growing demographic groups and their kids by and large are creaming whites. Don’t blame “immigrants” as a whole when the underachievement is concentrated among immigrants from one particular region.

      • S. Asians from e.g. Pakistan don’t seem to be doing too well compared to Chinese.  Nor are Somalis.

        It’s not just Central/South Americans, though they are the biggest group.

  3. “Schools will be blamed for America’s slide
    in competitiveness, predicts Walt Gardner
    on Reality Check.”

    I beleve this quote is true.

    One proof of this comes from a fact that I
    assume by now is common knowledge:

    Students can more easily learn a forgein
    laguage at the elementary grade level than
    at the high school or college level, yet
    forgein languages are taught at an age when
    it becomes more difficult.

    Another proof comes from a personal

    I have been retraining myself to work in IT.
    It involves simple mental grunt-work; mostly
    pounding out brief sets to commands on a
    console to configure computer networks. It
    used to include lots of cabling of networks,
    but now most of the networks have been laid
    and emphasis of this sub-topic is reduced in
    the coursework.

    Other sub-topics in the curriculum: “Adding,
    Subtracting, and logic operations performed
    on binary formatted numbers”, and the
    ability to convert from binary to
    hexidecimal is required, and may never
    become obsolete.

    “Binary arithmetic and logic operations”
    can be taught at the elementary level. It
    was a stumbling block to several IT
    students in my class who eventually
    dropped the course.

    Our education system will probably never
    develop a plan to more effectively teach
    forgein languages, despite the fact that
    this could be useful and it couldn’t hurt.

    Our education system will probably never
    develop a plan to teach binary arithmetic
    and logic operations, despite the fact that
    computers are more ubiquitous than
    televisions, radios, or vehicles.

  4. While we’re at it, let’s teach the kids the metric system so they can be fluent in both. When I started teaching in my last school, I talked to the Chem and physics teachers, asking what kind of things I could emphasize in math class to help them out. They wanted me to teach the kids metric system, measuring and units. Boy, I got a surprise when I asked kids what a liter of water weighed. And converting centimeters to km? Forget about it!

    Anybody got a fix on what the English units are costing us in competitiveness?

    • Are we totally sure that students are fluent in English measures?

      (By the way, I think Kumon’s excellent Geometry and Measurement (grade 1-6) series has a very good treatment of both metric and English measures. I LOVE those workbooks.)

      • Amy: My experiecne is they’re not. I knew of people in Colorado who didn’t get the connection between Denver’s moniker of “the mile high city” with the USGS marker at the capitol that says 5280 feet elevation. Not talking furlongs, links, rods, nautical miles or gills and drams, just meat and potato things. I haven’t seen the Kumon, but know Saxon employs both from an early age.

        • “I haven’t seen the Kumon, but know Saxon employs both from an early age.”

          There’s no reason not to. That’s exactly the sort of thing that kids should get really comfortable with from an early age. It’s not conceptually difficult.

          By the way, here’s a fun fact: I’ve been noticing that Vancouver, BC real estate discussions always seem to have square footage in…square feet. I wonder how many other corners of Canadian life there are where the English measurements linger on.

    • It’s not like kids are learning CALCULATIONS in English units, they’re simply learning to recognize certain limited quantities in English units. If that’s all they did in metric units they’d still be just as unprepared for physics and chem.

      Someone who thinks “15C, better put on a jacket”, is no more prepared than someone who thinks “59 degrees, better put on a jacket”.

      The reason they don’t know units is because their previous teachers focused on “engaging activities”. Units are not all that engaging, no matter how you dress them up.

  5. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Which of these countries uses a “business model” for education?