In Comparison With G-8 Countries, American Higher Education Has Pluses and Minuses

August 14, 2007

A new report from the U.S. Education Department provides abundant statistics comparing educational indicators in the United States and other countries in the Group of Eight. The 80-page report, published today by the department’s National Center for Education Statistics, notes that in 2004, the most recent year with data available, G-8 countries played host to two-thirds of the foreign students, in particular the United States (22 percent), Britain (11 percent), Germany (10 percent), and France (9 percent).

In a section on education attainment, the report says that Russia had the higher proportion — 55 percent — of adults, age 25 to 64, who had completed a higher education. Canada, at 45 percent, was second; the United States, at 39 percent, was third, closely followed by Japan, at 38 percent. Italy, at 11 percent, was last.

In a breakdown of undergraduate degrees by field of study, the report says the United States awarded the lowest proportion — 17 percent — of degrees in science, mathematics, and engineering. The other G-8 countries, ranging from Canada’s 20 percent to Germany’s 30 percent, graduated higher proportions. What did those American students major in instead? According to the report, they earned degrees in education and in a broad category embracing social sciences, business, and law.

That should be of interest to supporters of sweeping legislation, passed this month by Congress and signed into law by President Bush, to authorize more spending on science education and, in particular, training more schoolteachers qualified to teach science. —Andrew Mytelka