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U.S. Ranks 2nd on College Degrees But Low on 2-Year Ones

The United States ranks just second to Norway in the proportion of its citizens with bachelor's degrees, a new international analysis of higher education achievement shows.

While 32 percent of the American population ages 25 to 64 has a four-year degree, add in two-year degrees, and the percent jumps to 42 percent—making the United States fifth, overall, in higher education completion.

Getting Back to the Top: An International Comparison of Higher Education Achievement was released Wednesday by the National School Boards Association's Center for Public Education, an Alexandria, Va.-based organization.

With the United States coming in 18th in percentage of adults with an associate degree, community colleges present the country with an opportunity to make up ground globally, says Jim Hull, a senior policy analyst for the center and the author of the report. "The United States can make great progress by focusing more on adults with two-year degrees and increasing the 30 percent graduation rate for those who enter community college right after high school," he said in a press call about the report.

There is also room for improvement among young adults. The analysis reveals other countries are surpassing the U.S. in educating adults ages 25 to 34. While the U.S. production of young college graduates has been relatively steady, America's global standing drops to 11th when the focus is on attainment of four-year degrees for 25- to 34-year-olds. South Korea, Japan, Canada, Russia, and Ireland lead the list in young-adult college-completion rates.

Hull also referred to the role of K-12 schools to better prepare American students for college success as outlined in a report from the center in October. It recommends high schools offer a more rigorous curriculum, invest in well-trained counselors, and leverage information from graduates to track college performance as an indicator of the quality of instruction.

Research indicates most new jobs will require some postsecondary training, underscoring the importance of improving education levels to buoy the economy, says Hull.

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