What Country Spends the Most on Education?

Education Data Tells a Tale

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) compiled educational data from nations across the globe each year for its publication Education at a Glance. The most recent version for 2018 reports that, in 2015, the United States spent approximately $12,800 per student on elementary and secondary education. That is over 35% more than the OECD country average of $9,500. At the post-secondary level, the United States spent approximately $30,000 per student, which was 93% higher than the average of OECD countries ($16,100).

Education Funding Sources

The U.S. spending estimate includes money spent by public sources, such as federally guaranteed student loans and direct loans from the Department of Education, and private funds. Private funds include fees and expenses paid by parents and students and private student loans, which are not federally guaranteed.

Several countries outspent the United States for elementary and secondary education, including Austria, Norway, and Luxembourg, which spent $13.931, $14,353, and $20,900, respectively, in 2015. Luxembourg spends the most per student at the elementary/secondary level, and Mexico spends the least at $3,300 per student.

The United States also spent less of its total wealth on education than many of its counterparts. In terms of the percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) spent on education, the United States, at approximately 6.2%, trailed Norway, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Colombia, and Chile.

Public Funding for Education

On average, educational institutions in OECD countries are mainly publicly funded. According to the OECD, governments provide 90% of funding for primary, secondary, and post-secondary non-tertiary education and 66% for tertiary education. Chile, Colombia, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States account for the largest shares at approximately 70%.

Some public money is also transferred to the private sector for the funding of tertiary education and accounts for approximately 5% of total funds across OECD countries. Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom transfer the most funding from public to private education institutions, between 20% and 35% of the total funds devoted to tertiary education.

Education Spending in the United States

Students in the United States fare considerably worse than many of their counterparts across the globe in terms of knowledge gained from education. According to data from the Programme for International Student Assessment, 15-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 31st on OECD standardized mathematics tests, and their test scores were far below average in reading and science.

The United States was one of only five countries in the OECD to cut education funding in the years prior to the OECD study. The OECD report for 2017 found that education spending in the U.S. decreased 3% between 2010 and 2014 while spending in other nations was up 5%.

Education Spending as a Percentage of GDP

Among the 34 OECD countries reporting data in 2015, 17 countries spent more than the average percentage (5%) of GDP on total government and private expenditures on education institutions for OECD countries. Norway spent the most on education as a percentage of GDP at 6.4% followed by New Zealand at 6.3%, the United Kingdom at 6.2%, and the United States at 6.1 percent.

Conversely, 17 countries spent less than the average percentage of GDP on total education expenditures for OECD countries. Ireland and Luxembourg reported the lowest total education expenditures as a percentage of GDP, both spending 3.5%, followed by Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Greece, all at 3.8%.

The United States spent close to the average percentage of GDP on elementary/secondary education for OECD countries at 3.5%. Fifteen other countries also spent more than the average of OECD countries on elementary/secondary education. Seven of these 16 total countries spent at least 4% of GDP on elementary/secondary education. In contrast, 18 countries spent less than the average of OECD countries on elementary/secondary education.

Spending on Post-secondary Education

At the post-secondary level, the United States spent more than the average (1.5%) for OECD countries on total government and private expenditures at 2.6%. Only three other countries spent 2% or more of GDP on post-secondary education. Those countries were Canada at 2.4%, Australia at 2%, and Chile at 2%.

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