On January 29, 2020, AIR hosted a presentation and discussion on how college completion rates and financial aid differ around the world.
This webinar highlighted findings from OECD Education at a Glance 2019, which covers 36 countries that account for 80 percent of world trade. The 2019 edition features indicators about tertiary education. The 2020 edition will feature indicators about vocational education.
- College completion and attainment rates across the OECD countries aren’t great. Many countries struggle with this, particularly when it comes to supporting students who are new to the higher education system.
- Institutions could do a lot more to support students who want to go to college and earn a degree. Some countries do really well at this. Some focus on high standards and preparation before students get to college. Shorter postsecondary programs also may be easier for students to complete.
- Completion and financial aid may be related, but it’s complicated. In the U.S., financing is an issue, and students lead complicated lives that can disrupt their college educations (e.g., life events like forming a family, having kids, working, changing jobs, changing interests, caring for a family member). Some promising strategies to address these issues: social supports and coaching to help students to navigate the system, improving academic operational policies, and providing students with microgrants “to pay the one bill they can’t make.”
- Everyone is worried about equity—whether higher education institutions are providing opportunities for students from low-income backgrounds to rise up. This is really important in the U.S.
More detailed information and potential data points
The webinar focused on findings related to the following questions:
What percentage of U.S. students graduate tertiary education, on-time and 6 years after they enrolled, and how do these rates compare to other OECD countries?
- 38.5% of full-time U.S. students who enter a bachelor’s program graduate within the theoretical duration of the program, which is close to the OECD average of 39.3%.
- 69% of full-time U.S. students who enter a bachelor’s program graduate within two years of the theoretical duration of the program, compared to the OECD average of 67% (after three years; theoretical duration varies from three to five years in OECD countries).
How do completion rates vary by parents’ educational attainment and immigration status in the U.S. and OECD countries?
- Completion rates in the U.S. are higher for students who had at least one parent who had completed a tertiary education than for those who did not.
- Completion rates in the U.S. are higher for non-immigrant students than for students who were second-generation or first-generation immigrants.
- Research shows that “navigational capital”—the ability to navigate the higher ed system—is related to college completion and tends to be higher for students whose parents attended postsecondary education. For immigrants, language barriers, displacement, and unfamiliar institutions and processes may be barriers to completion.
Where are U.S. students after their first year of study, and how does this compare to other countries?
- 6% of U.S. students who enter a bachelor’s program full-time leave the system before the beginning of their second year of study—the lowest percentage among OECD countries. The OECD average is 12%. The OECD share increases to 20% by the end of the program’s theoretical duration and to 24% three years later. The U.S. has one of the lowest dropout rates by theoretical program duration plus three years.
How does the average in-state public tuition fee in the U.S. compare to other OECD countries? How does financial support for students vary?
- The average tuition charged by public institutions to in-state students in bachelor programs is $8,804 (2017-18). Only England (UK) charges more. (Thirty-two percent of U.S. students attend private institutions, and students also attend public institutions out-of-state and are charged a higher rate; thus, the charged rate is not the same as the paid rate.)
- About one-third of OECD countries have no fees, about one-third have low fees (below U.S $2,600), and about one-third have high fees ($3,000 to $9,000+).
- Tuition/financial support relationships vary: no tuition/high aid, high tuition/high aid, high tuition/moderate aid, or low/moderate tuition, low/moderate aid. tuition/moderate aid. Most students rely on a loans or a combination of grants and loans. They offer income-driven repayment for their student loans.
- In the U.S., eligibility and progression requirements for some financial aid programs mean that students run out of funding before they can complete a degree.
- Setting tuition by degree level is a common strategy in countries that rely heavily on tuition as a source of revenue. There a few other common approaches to higher education finance.
What is the average amount of debt students have at the end of their tertiary education in OECD countries and what types of repayment systems do countries have?
- Some countries peg tuition costs and debt repayment to expected labor market outcomes.
- Some countries do not charge tuition up front, only later when students are working.
Note: As with most international studies, there are a variety of data sources, definitions, and caveats to the data.
- Presenter: Rachel Dinkes, Principal Researcher, American Institutes for Research
- Discussant: Audrey Peek, Researcher, American Institutes for Research
- Moderator: Sandy Baum, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Urban Institute
About the RISE Webinar Series
The Research on International Studies in Education (RISE) Webinar Series showcases research using data from international studies and promotes sharing and discussion about how data-based evidence can be used for improving educational outcomes. The RISE Webinar Series is organized by AIR. To receive emails about RISE and invitations to upcoming webinars, please email RISE@air.org.