We like to pretend that the United States’ educational system is the best in the world, at least in the domain of higher education, since so many of its institutions are at the top of all kinds of university rankings. However, the Pearson ranking that assesses the global strength of the education system (cognitive skills and educational attainment) places the United States at a surprisingly low rank of 14. Ranked higher than our country’s system are multiple European systems in Finland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Germany and Russia. This is a strange position to be in for the “best educational system in the world.”
A 2014 report by the OECD states that in 2012, only a dismal 39 percent of young Americans were expected to graduate from college. In 1995, 33 percent was all the U.S. needed to rank first, but now, 39 percent only gets the United States a 19 out of the 28 places. Generally, Americans tend to focus too much on the rankings of their top institutions and the elite who go to the best 100 colleges, which leads them to completely ignore the deeper issues linked to mass education in the U.S.
The federal education budget project reports that in 2014, only 6 percent of the $1.1 trillion in total appropriations funding across all federal agencies that year were given to education in the U.S. Another important note from this project is that defense and homeland security took up more than 50 percent of that funding.
In Europe, even though the system is not perfect, different systems have been tried out and have provided conclusive results. Finland suppressed grades and Germany made every higher-education university in the country free from tuition, putting a lot less stress on students’ shoulders. Those two countries are higher ranked than the U.S. in the Pearson rankings. Also, despite the importance we put on secondary education, many European countries like France value a good high school education as a universal goal, something the U.S. lacks, which produces more well-rounded students coming out of high school.
Even so, everything is not completely bleak for the U.S. In recent years, efforts have been made to make education more affordable and accessible for students. Stanford University recently increased the ceiling for its financial aid, helping more families obtain free tuition to attend the prestigious school. Our own Rep. Scott Peters is trying to pass a bill to better help students repay their student loans with their employers.
Sadly, even with this progress, just the simple name “financial aid” means we have to pay for an education that should be accessible to all. In a developed country like the U.S., it is scary that we are so far behind in giving a valued education to everyone. Education here is a business, and just like many businesses in the U.S., it is leaving a lot of people behind.