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United States
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Diagram of the education system



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Key

- Diagram of education system in country language

- Old diagram using ISCED 1997 classification

- General methodological notes for ISCED diagrams

Education system in United States

United States
Overview of the education system (EAG 2017)
  • Science-related fields offer good employment prospects but are not the most popular in the United States: the employment rate for tertiary-educated adults who studied engineering, manufacturing and construction is 88%, the highest by field of study, but the arts and humanities, social sciences, journalism and information fields are the most popular, studied by 30% of tertiary-educated adults.
  • The share of tertiary-educated 25-34 year-olds in the United States has always been higher than the OECD average, but the gap is closing, from 12 percentage points in 2000 to 4 percentage points in 2016.
  • In 2016, 46% of 25-64 year-old Americans were tertiary-educated, ranging from a low of 29% in West Virginia to a high of 63% in the District of Columbia. By comparison, the OECD average is 36%.
  • In the United States, 88% of 15-19 year-olds are still enrolled in education, ranging from 82% in Alaska to 92% in New Hampshire. By comparison, on average across OECD countries, 85% of 15-19 year-olds and are enrolled in education.
  • In 2015, the United States attracted 28% of international and foreign tertiary students from OECD countries. The country attracts many more students from abroad than it sends: for each national student enrolled abroad, the United States receives 21 international or foreign students.
  • Low and high levels of educational attainment persist through generations: 56% of 30-44 year-old Americans with at least one tertiary-educated parent had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher (Bachelor’s degree or higher is used as a proxy for tertiary-type A or an advanced research programme - ISCED-97), compared with 19% of those whose parents did not complete tertiary education.
  • While the number of tertiary students was stable between 2010 and 2014 in the United States, the total expenditure on tertiary education increased by 6% over the same period. However, at the primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary level a slight increase in student numbers over the same period was accompanied by a 3% decrease in expenditure.
  • On average, teachers in the United States earn less than 60% of the salaries of similarly-educated workers, the lowest relative earnings across all OECD countries with data.
  • Despite increasing awareness of the importance of early childhood education for children’s development, enrolment in pre-primary education at the age of 3 in the United States is 30 percentage points below the OECD average.
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    The following list displays indicators for which your selected country shows the highest and lowest values among countries. The list can be sorted by level of education or by age group. All rankings are calculated including available data from OECD and partner countries. Find out more about the methodology here.

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    Educational outcomes

    The level of upper secondary attainment among 25-64 year-olds is one of the highest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (90.1 %, rank 7/45 ) Download Indicator

    The level of upper secondary attainment among 25-34 year-olds is one of the highest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (91.5 %, rank 10/45 ) Download Indicator

    The level of upper secondary attainment among 55-64 year-olds is one of the highest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (90.2 %, rank 3/45 ) Download Indicator

    The level of tertiary attainment among 25-64 year-olds is one of the highest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (45.7 %, rank 7/46 ) Download Indicator

    The level of tertiary attainment among 55-64 year-olds is one of the highest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (41.9 %, rank 4/46 ) Download Indicator

    United States has one of the highest percentages of young people expected to graduate from short tertiary education programmes during their lifetime. (22.4 %, rank 7/32 ) Download Indicator

    The percentage of today's young people expected to obtain a master's or an equivalent degree during their lifetime is one of the highest among OECD countries and partner economies with available data. (20 %, rank 10/38 ) Download Indicator

    Excluding mobile students, United States has one of the lowest percentages of young people expected to complete a doctorate or an equivalent education during their lifetime. (1.1 %, rank 18/27 ) Download Indicator

    Among OECD countries and partner economies with available data, United States has one of the highest percentages of young people expected to graduate from tertiary education during their lifetime. (54.2 %, rank 8/30 ) Download Indicator

    Excluding mobile students, United States has one of the highest percentages of young people expected to graduate from tertiary education during their lifetimes. (52.7 %, rank 7/24 ) Download Indicator

    Participation in education

    The percentage of four-year-olds in early childhood and primary education in United States is one of the lowest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (66.2 %, rank 36/42 ) Download Indicator

    Classroom environment

    Classes are particularly large in lower secondary schools. (27 Students, rank 10/35 ) Download Indicator

    The number of students per teacher in secondary schools is one of the largest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (15.38 Ratio, rank 9/37 ) Download Indicator

    Resources for education

    Annual expenditure per student from primary to tertiary level is one of the highest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (16268 USD Equivalent, rank 3/40 ) Download Indicator

    Annual expenditure per pupil at the pre-primary level is one of the highest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (10427 USD Equivalent, rank 8/31 ) Download Indicator

    Annual expenditure per primary student is one of the highest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (11319 USD Equivalent, rank 6/39 ) Download Indicator

    Annual expenditure per secondary student is one of the highest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (12995 USD Equivalent, rank 6/40 ) Download Indicator

    The share of private expenditure on tertiary education is one of the largest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (65.3 %, rank 4/38 ) Download Indicator

    The change between 2005 and 2012 in private expenditure on tertiary educational institutions is one of the largest compared to other OECD and partner countries with available data. (116 Index, rank 8/29 ) Download Indicator

    Between 2010 and 2012, the change in expenditure on educational institutions (from primary to tertiary level) as a percentage of GDP, excluding subsidies, is among the smallest of all OECD countries and partner economies with available data. (88 Index, rank 30/34 ) Download Indicator

    Between 2010 and 2012, the change in public expenditure on primary through tertiary educational institutions is comparatively small. (95 Index, rank 29/34 ) Download Indicator

    Teachers' salaries

    After 15 years of experience, an upper secondary teacher with minimum qualification can expect to have one of the highest salaries among OECD and partner countries with available data. (51817 USD Equivalent, rank 10/33 ) Download Indicator

    After 15 years of experience, a pre-primary teacher with minimum qualification can expect to have one of the highest salaries among OECD and partner countries with available data. (47114 USD Equivalent, rank 7/27 ) Download Indicator

    The ratio of primary teachers' salaries to earnings of full-time, full-year workers with tertiary education is one of the lowest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (0.65 Ratio, rank 24/26 ) Download Indicator

    The ratio of lower secondary teachers' salaries to earnings of full-time, full-year workers with tertiary education is one of the lowest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (0.66 Ratio, rank 24/26 ) Download Indicator

    The ratio of upper secondary teachers' salaries to earnings of full-time, full-year workers with tertiary education is one of the lowest among OECD and partner countries with available data. (0.68 Ratio, rank 24/26 ) Download Indicator

    Economic and social outcomes

    Compared with other OECD and partner countries, the difference in earnings between 25-64 year-old women with tertiary education and those with upper secondary education is quite high. (170 Index, rank 10/37 ) Download Indicator

    Compared with other OECD and partner countries, the proportional difference in earnings between 25-64 year-old adults with tertiary education and those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education is quite high. (171 Index, rank 9/37 ) Download Indicator

    Compared with other OECD and partner countries, the proportional difference in earnings between 25-64 year-old adults with a short-cycle tertiary education degree and those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education is low. (114 Index, rank 16/25 ) Download Indicator

    Compared with other OECD and partner countries, the proportional difference in earnings between 25-64 year-old adults with a bachelor's or equivalent degree and those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education is high. (162 Index, rank 8/30 ) Download Indicator

    Compared with other OECD and partner countries, the proportional difference in earnings between 25-64 year-old adults with a master's or equivalent degree and those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education is high. (225 Index, rank 6/30 ) Download Indicator


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    General findings
    • In most OECD countries, the most popular tertiary degrees held by adults are in business, administration or law. However, interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) grows with higher levels of education, with almost double the share of students graduating from these fields at doctoral level than at bachelor’s level in 2015.
    • STEM-related fields tend to benefit from higher employment rates on average across OECD countries though inequities persist: natural sciences, mathematics and statistics graduates are more likely to have similar employment rates as arts and humanities graduates – both lower than the rates enjoyed by engineers or ICT specialists.
    • Gender parity is still a distant dream for some fields of study. At the tertiary level, women still represent approximately only one in four entrants to engineering, manufacturing and construction, but three out of four entrants in health and welfare on average across OECD countries.
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    • On average across OECD countries, expenditure has been increasing at a much higher rate than student enrolments at all levels, particularly tertiary. Total expenditure on tertiary educational institutions increased by more than twice the rate of students over the same period, reflecting the priority given by government and society to higher education.
    • While public expenditure on educational institutions has clearly been rising, it did not keep up with the increase in GDP between 2010 and 2014 on average across OECD countries. This has led to a decrease of 2% in public expenditure on educational institutions as a percentage of GDP over the same period.
    • The share of public funding is significantly higher at lower levels of education than for tertiary education on average across OECD countries. While the public sector still provides 91% of the funds at primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary levels, it only provides for 70% of total expenditure at tertiary level.
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    • The teaching profession is getting older, particularly at higher levels of education. On average across OECD countries, 35% of primary to secondary teachers were at least 50 years old in 2015, up 3 percentage points from 2005.
    • The profession is still largely dominated by women, who make up seven out of ten teachers on average across OECD countries. However gender parity improves at higher levels of education – while 97% of teachers at the pre-primary level are women, they make up 43% at the tertiary level.
    • Primary and secondary teachers’ salaries are low compared to other similarly educated full-time workers. While salaries increase with the level of education taught, they still range between 78% and 94% of the salaries of full-time workers with tertiary education on average across OECD countries.
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    • In a majority of OECD countries, education now begins for most children well before they are five years old – 78% of three-year-olds are enrolled in early childhood education on average across OECD countries.
    • The proportion of children enrolled in private early childhood education programmes is considerably greater than the private enrolment shares at primary and secondary levels. On average, 55% of children in early childhood educational development programmes and 33% in pre-primary programmes attend private institutions.
    • Public expenditure accounts for 83% of all resources allocated for pre-primary education and 71% of funding for early childhood educational development.
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    • Based on current patterns, it is estimated that on average across OECD countries, 80% of today’s young people will graduate from upper secondary education before the age of 25.
    • General upper secondary education programmes are more popular than vocational programmes: 57% of 15-19 year-old students are enrolled in general programmes, compared to 43% in vocational programmes.
    • Adults with upper secondary as highest attainment level have lower employment advantages and are least likely to recover from economic downturns that those that have attained tertiary education.
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    • Based on current patterns of graduation, an average of 49% of today’s young people across OECD countries are expected to graduate from tertiary education at least once in their lifetime.
    • People’s relative earning advantage increases with their level of tertiary education. On average across OECD countries, those with a short-cycle tertiary degree earn only about 22% more than those with upper secondary education, while those with a master’s, doctoral or equivalent degree earn about twice as much.
    • Students become more mobile as they reach higher tertiary education levels. International students account for only 5.6% of total enrolment in tertiary programmes, but over a quarter of enrolments at doctoral level across OECD countries.
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    Note: These values should be interpreted with care since they are influenced by countries' specific contexts and trade-offs. In education, there is often no simple most- or least-efficient model. For instance, the share of private expenditure in education must be read against other measures designed to mitigate inequities, such as loans and grants; longer learning time is an opportunity to convey more and better content to students, but may hinder investments in other important areas. If you want further information on the nature of different variables, please take the time to read the analysis and contextual information, available at the website for each publication.
    All rankings for individual variables are compiled on the basis of OECD and G20 countries for which data are available. The OECD average includes only OECD countries which are listed here: http://www.oecd.org/about/membersandpartners/

    *TALIS averages are based on all countries participating in the TALIS survey, including partner countries and economies. This explains the difference between the OECD average and the TALIS average. Data from the TALIS survey and Education at a Glance (EAG) may differ. See Annex E of the TALIS technical report and Annex 3 of EAG 2017 for more details about the data collections.

    For additional notes, please refer to annexes in the list of links below the introductory country profile text.