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US losing its competitive edge due to high costs of higher education: OECD

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The US is losing its competitive edge over other countries when it comes to the percentage of the population with higher education degrees, and much of that has to do with the rising cost of a university education, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The rate of enrollment of US students in higher education is now lower than most other OECD countries, said Andreas Schleicher, the head of indicators and analysis at the OECD, in a briefing with reporters Monday. The rising costs of the American education system and the lack of financial assistance to offset the increase are major factors.

"Many industrialized countries have moved beyond the US. A decade before, we were the benchmark of success," Mr. Schleicher said.

While the US still boasts the largest percentage of people with college degrees (26 percent), the rate at which other countries are catching up is evident once the population is broken down into age cohorts, as shown in the OECD's 2011 "Education at a Glance" report, released Monday.

The most stark indicator comes from an examination of two age brackets: 25-34 and 55-64. Among industrialized countries, one-third of people with higher education between the ages of 55 and 64 hail from the United States. In the 25-34 age cohort, that percentage drops to one out of every five people.

The number of countries from which the growing pool of highly educated people draws from is also expanding, Schleicher said. Twelve percent of college graduates come from China, but that jumps to 18 percent when looking at the 25-34 bracket.

"If you look across age groups, the US is quite alone in that young people are not better educated than people in the labor market," he said.

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