College King of the Universe

For decades, the U.S. education system was the envy of the world. It was a key factor in explaining the material well-being of the average American. In particular, the United States was noted for its comparatively high number of college graduates. We wonder: Which of these countries now has the highest share of college graduates among its young professionals?

A. United States
B. France
C. Korea
D. Canada

A. United States is not correct.

At 37%, the United States still has the highest proportion of college graduates among older workers, aged 55-64 (as of 2004). Due partially to the rapidly rising cost of college education, this proportion has remained essentially constant over the past several decades. Among today’s 25-34 year olds in the United States, 39% are college graduates.

Among the G7 countries, only Germany has experienced comparable stagnation in its college completion rate in the late 20th century.

B. France is not correct.

The proportion of college graduates in France has risen remarkably — from 16% in the 1960s, representing today’s 55-64 year olds, to 39% among 25-34 year olds.

Unlike their parents’ generation, young French employees are as likely to be college graduates as are young American workers.

C. Korea is not correct.

The educational achievement of South Korea is one of the wonders of the late 20th century. While only 10% of those aged 55-64 have completed college, 51% of Koreans aged 25-34 today are college graduates.

In other words, while an additional two out of every 100 Americans completed college between the 1960s and the 1990s — and an additional 24 of every 100 French — an additional 41 of every 100 Koreans graduated from college during that time.

D. Canada is correct.

At 36%, Canada has almost the same rate of college completion among older workers as the United States. However, unlike the United States, Canada has continued to increase access to, and completion of, college education.

Among 25-34 year olds today, 54% of Canadians are college graduates — which makes it the leader among G7 nations, according to the OECD.

But even at that level, Canada does not have the highest college completion rate in the world among young professionals. That distinction goes to Russia, which has a slightly higher rate of 56%.

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