America's Higher Education System Is Spectacularly Inefficient

American higher education is running into a number of serious issues. Student debt is skyrocketing, job outcomes are bleak, and online education options are getting more threatening.

The problem isn’t that we’re not spending enough money on college; compared to most other countries, the U.S. spends a ton. It’s that the country spends it in an incredibly inefficient way.

America spends more on higher education, as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), than almost any other nation. As the world’s biggest economy, it spends vastly more in dollar terms than anyone else. But when you measure how many people actually end up getting through college, we’re more inefficient than almost every other developed nation, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The inefficiency rating divides the degree attainment rate by spending, and estimates how many more graduates a country could expect by spending another percentage point of GDP. The weighted figure counts four-year graduates more than two-year students:

As for whether we should be making post-secondary education a priority, the numbers aren’t ambiguous there. There might be things we can improve about college, but there’s no denying that college graduates do far, far better in the job market and are more likely to continue to do so:

That earnings premium only gets bigger over time. Other countries manage to educate far more people for far less money. We need to pick up some of those lessons.

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