Distorting Educational Costs and Achievement

Politicians and business people lament the state of American education and complain about its high costs and lack of achievement.  (I note with some alarm that they do not complain about the cost of incarceration which is at least 10 times higher.)  They complain that the cost of American education is not worth the return on investment and state that the United States spends more money on education than the rest of the world.  

It is true that the United States in 2001 spent $500 billion dollars on education, followed by Japan, Germany and France.  While the U.S. spent the most in absolute dollars, it ranked tenth in educational spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Saudi Arabia ranked first by investing 9.5 percent of GDP in education.  The top five nations include Norway, Malaysia, France and South Africa which each spent in excess of 5 percent of GDP in education.

By looking at the percentage of GDP spent on education we see a different lens to view worldwide education.  Another way of looking at educational spending is looking at how much is spent per capita.  Norway leads in per capita spending at approximately $2,850 while the United States was second at approximately $1,780- about 2/3 of Norway’s expenditure.

The next time you hear someone (a businessperson or politician) complaining that America spends more money on education and gets little in return, you have my permission to show them this posting.