How America's Colleges Compare Internationally

Ashley Thorne

Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation has a sobering article in last Sunday’s New York Times. He writes that while Americans perceive the K-12 education system as seriously broken, we assume that our higher education is doing great. He noted that the wording matters:

When President Obama has said, “We have the best universities,” he has not meant: “Our universities are, on average, the best” — even though that’s what many people hear. He means, “Of the best universities, most are ours.” The distinction is important.

Even though most of the globally top-ranked universities are American ones, on the whole, people educated in American universities score lower than average on a literacy and math test, compared with people who attended college in other countries. Carey cites an assessment published in late 2013 by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) which surveyed adults in 24 countries in North America, Europe, and Asia, as well as Australia. U.S. performance on the test, even performance by the college-educated, presented a dismal picture of our country’s intellectual competence in relation to that of our foreign neighbors.

Carey concludes that Americans must open their eyes to the poor quality of education in U.S. colleges. If the nation’s prosperity rests on its people’s ingenuity and innovation, it’s time we start paying close attention to the higher education of our rising generations.

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