NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Gives Up Lead In College Graduation Rates

May 18, 2000

Three countries have surpassed the U.S. in the proportion of the population that has graduated from college, according to a study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

  • On average, nearly one-quarter of young people in the industrialized OECD countries now complete university-level education.
  • As a percentage of the population, the graduation rate in Norway was 37.1 percent in 1998, 35.1 percent in the United Kingdom and 34.6 percent in the Netherlands.
  • The U.S. rate in 1998 was 32.9 percent -- up from 30 percent in the early 1990s.
  • College and university enrollment grew by more than 20 percent in OECD countries between 1990 and 1997 in all but five countries -- Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the U.S.

One important reason the U.S. dropped to fourth place, experts explain, is the high dropout rate among college students here. More than one-third of university students in the U.S. leave school before getting a degree -- compared to rates of less than 20 percent in Japan and the U.K.

Source: Tamara Henry, "USA Falls to Fourth in College Grad Rate," USA Today, May 18, 2000.


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