Is failure to complete hitting US ability to compete?

The US is losing its cutting edge in innovation, an economic survey of the country has claimed.

July 12, 2012

The report by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development says that fissures are appearing in the US economy, in part due to a stagnant further and higher education sector.

"Reform is needed to strengthen achievement and to address lagging tertiary attainment in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics," it says.

The report found that 22 out of 30 OECD countries now have more graduates in science and engineering among the 25- to 34-year-old workforce than the US. Growth in the number of students in the US has slowed, while rates have risen in most other OECD countries.

The report blames low college completion rates for the slowdown in growth and attributes poor completion rates to a dearth of high-quality secondary education and financial pressures on students.

Although completion rates have risen in recent years, only 57 per cent of the US' full-time students starting bachelor's degrees complete within six years. Rates are lower still for part-time students and those who transfer from community colleges.

Tuition fees have risen at an annual average real rate of 4 per cent over the past three decades, adjusted for inflation, outpacing family incomes and student loans "by a considerable margin", the report says.

The OECD has called for the US to boost the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths. Citing the importance of research and development for innovation and economic growth, it says that reductions in the federal research and development budget should also be as limited as possible.

"Ideally, funds would be appropriated to continue on the path approved in the 2007 America COMPETES Act of doubling the budgets for three key science agencies within a decade," says the study.

The report also found that patent activity and research and development spending as a percentage of gross domestic product remains high, but gains elsewhere mean the US is slipping in global rankings.

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