The United States spends more money educating its young people than any other nation, according to Education at a Glance 2017, the most recent study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which compiles educational data from nations across the globe each year. In 2014, the U.S. spent an average of $12,157 per student on elementary and secondary education, over 30% more than the OECD average of $9,419. College spending, including technical schools and universities, was nearly $30,000, 75% more than the average spending of other countries in the OECD. Total U.S. spending averaged $16,268 per student, 51% more than the average for all of the countries included in the OECD study.
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 U.S. on elementary and secondary education, including Switzerland, Norway and Luxembourg, which spent $21,595 per full-time student in 2014. But only Luxembourg outpaced the U.S. on spending for higher education, with total expenditures per student of $42,526 per year.
The U.S. 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, at 6.2% it trailed Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom.
Most of the money invested in education comes from public sources, both in the U.S. and globally. However, the U.S. invested fewer tax dollars on educating its young people than most countries in 2014, paying 70 cents of each dollar spent on education, down two cents from a decade earlier. The average country in the OECD contributed 84 cents to each student’s bill.
Public funding for higher education is even more disparate. In the U.S., taxpayers paid 36 cents of every dollar spent on post-secondary education, nearly 50% less than the average contributed by other OECD nations and far less than some. As a result, many students in the U.S. turn to private grants and endowments to help with the cost of college, while others enlist the help of parents and private student loans.
Spending aside, students in the U.S. fare considerably worse than many of their counterparts across the globe in terms of knowledge gained. 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 U.S. was one of only five countries in the OECD to cut education funding in the years prior to the OECD study. Education spending in the U.S. decreased 3% between 2010 and 2014, while spending in other nations was up 5%.