High School Grads in China, India Are Better Prepared for College

Chinese investment in high school education tripled from 2001 to 2006.

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China and India ramped up investment in public education, increasing high school attendance and graduation rates.
China and India have ramped up investment in public education, increasing high school attendance and graduation rates.

As many U.S. school districts try to do more with less after a steady stream of funding cuts, lawmakers in India and China are making substantial investments in their public education systems.

China's investment in high school education rose from $4.1 billion to $13 billion between 2001 and 2006, an increase of 212.6 percent, according to a report released August 21 by the Center for American Progress and the Center for the Next Generation.

India spent $44 billion on education in 2008, a substantial increase from the country's $11 billion annual investment in the late 1980s. The influx of cash bolstered high school attendance and graduation rates.

[What can the U.S. learn from other countries' education systems?]

Currently, about 33 percent of Indian teens finish high school, but that number is expected to climb nearly 15 percentage points in the next five years, the report states. The result: 20 million high school graduates in India by 2017, according to the report.

The United States still spends more per capita on education than India or China, but there remains cause for concern, says Ann O'Leary, director of the Children and Families program at the Center for the Next Generation.

"In the past, they were educating a very miniscule portion of their population," O'Leary says. "Now we're seeing that they've become more of a threat."

High school graduates in India and China are going on to college—and unlike nearly 50 percent of U.S. college students, they're finishing. Many of them graduate with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math.

"I think the STEM subject is interesting evidence that we have work to do," O'Leary says, pointing out that China currently graduates close to 1.5 million college students annually with degrees in STEM subjects.

By comparison, fewer than 500,000 U.S. college students graduate with STEM degrees each year.

The difference in STEM graduates at the college level can be traced back to programs in lower grade levels, O'Leary says, noting that many high school graduates in the United States aren't getting the level of training needed to succeed in college-level STEM programs.

To compete with skilled graduates from China, India, and other countries, the U.S. needs to invest in teacher training and provide access to job shadowing and internship experiences to high school students, she adds.

Work experience programs are "strongly associated" with better outcomes in college, but tend to be more accessible for middle-class students, O'Leary says.

"We need to make sure we're providing those types of experiences for all students, because it helps them go on to better education and better work experience," she says. "That's not happening as much as it should."

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