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Do More U.S. Students Attend College Than Global Peers? It Depends on the State

An international study highlights the severity of state-to-state differences in college completion rates across the United States. 

The annual Education at a Glance report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, released this morning, finds 48 percent of young U.S. adults had completed a higher education degree in 2017. In the District of Columbia, 73 percent of young adults held a higher degree—a larger share than in Korea, which led OECD countries overall with a college attainment rate  of 70 percent. Yet, at the other end of the scale,  only 30 percent of young adults in Nevada had a higher degree. That puts Nevada more on a level with Chile or Hungary.

That 43-percentage-point gap between states in this country  is the largest of any OECD country except the Russian Federation. The OECD also finds that U.S. students are more likely than the global average to choose two-year degrees or certificate programs, and less likely to earn a master's or doctoral degree.

The study compared adults ages 25-34 across 48 member and partner countries that participate in OECD benchmarking assessments, such as the Program for International Student Assessment and the Teaching and Learning International Survey.

The study finds that more than 9 in 10 U.S. adults ages 25-34 earned at least a high school degree—well above the 79 percent average for OECD countries. But students in some states were much less likely than others to launch into college or the workplace successfully. The study finds 14 percent of young people in the United States (ages 15 to 29) were neither students nor employed. The share of so-called "disconnected youth" ranged from only 9 percent in Minnesota to 20 percent in Louisiana.

Interestingly, there's a smaller gap between immigrant and native-born students in college completion in the United States than in many other countries in the OECD:

OECD higher education.JPG

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