America it’s time to evaluate the quality and quantity of our education. It’s time for educators, parents, students and even politicians to get their heads out of the sand and stop saying that “America is the best!” It’s time to look at the cold hard facts about our global rankings and ask some tough questions about higher education in this country and whether or not we are winning the global college race.

China has our number

China has been watching us for decades. The present administration said in 2009 that they were setting a goal to send 100,000 students to China over the next four years, the current figure is around 14,000. China, on the other hand, has been sending students to this country in droves since the book “Harvard Girl” came out and hit China’s #1 best sellers list. China has the largest group of foreign students in this country, over 127,000.

One might argue they are coming here because we have the best universities and colleges for them to obtain an education. But is that the case? Or has China simply been building up their education system over the past 20 years? Since 1998, China has increased their education budget by 300%. From 1997-2007, they have doubled the number of colleges. In the 1980’s, only 20% of their population attended universities, and today 60% of their high school graduates go to college. Chinese college students have their sites set on the tech industry and they are leading the world with 400,000 technical graduates added each year. Since 2004, technical computer-related degrees have been been sliding, declining 37%.

Our global rank is falling

The Washington Post recently highlighted a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development:

Instead of gaining ground, the United States has fallen from 12th to 16th in the share of adults age 25 to 34 holding degrees. It trails global leaders South Korea, Canada and Japan and is mired in the middle of the pack among developed nations.

“Most of these countries are moving ahead,” said Jamie Merisotis, chief executive of the Lumina Foundation, an advocate of higher education reform. “And we are stuck in neutral.”

U.S. officials are stressing the importance of higher education in helping our nation compete in the global economy. Recent data shows that the degree attainment rate among young adults is 41%, compared to South Korea’s at 63% and Canada and Japan at 56%. Statistics also show that 27% of freshmen students in the U.S. drop out after their first year. It’s clear that America is falling behind in the global college race.

The U.S. Education Secretary agrees:

“I think our country just got complacent. We got self-satisfied,” said Arne Duncan, the U.S. education secretary. “I use these stats everywhere we go, and people are mostly stunned.”

Is this the whole story?

In spite all of all these declining statistics, U.S. colleges still rank among the top universities in the world. QS World University Rankings for 2011 have Harvard, MIT and Yale among the top five, with U.S. colleges holding spots 8-16 as well. Canada’s McGill University was #17, The University of Hong Kong #22, and The University of Tokyo was #25.

But just how accurate are these rankings? A recent gathering of higher-ed insiders from around the world outlined their own complaints about the global rankings as highlighted on The College Solution Blog:

  • The rankings are dominated by a small number of extremely rich, English-speaking universities.
  • The rankings focus on such things as medical and scientific research and an institution’s overall reputation, which don’t impact student learning.
  • Rankings don’t care about a university’s impact on social mobility, which is particularly important in the developing world.
  • The rankings don’t measure what type of learning takes place at universities.

Whether you agree with global rankings and statistics or not, it’s clear that America needs to make some changes in higher education. Do we need to better prepare students for college? Do we need to focus more on making sure that those who attend graduate? Do we need to look at the quality of education in our higher institutions and the teaching techniques? Are America’s student’s complacent about the importance of pursuing education after high school?

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