Tag: USA

Report analysing PIAAC data reveals that American youth is increasingly better educated but with lower skills


Educational Testing Service (ETS), an US based private non-profit educational testing and assessment organisation has examined PIAAC data for US.

PIAAC is the short version for Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, an OECD led project in 24 countries to examine the skills among adult populations. Here, PIAAC results complement the skills assessment of pupils with PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and AHELO (Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes). Some of the initial analysis were published in late 2013.

ETS has examined PIAAC data for the US, and in particular for the so-called millenial generation that has been isolated from the total for this report. Their main starting point is that this is the best educated generation in the US history, but this generation also consistently appears to score below international average in literacy, numeracy and problem solving with technology.

Literacy in the PIAAC study is defined as “understanding, evaluating, using and engaging with written texts to participate in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential”, and it was operationalised both as an ability to comprehend and decode text as well as using the text appropriately in context. The test did not measure actual writing skills. Numeracy was defined as “the ability to access, use, interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas, in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life” and its operationalisation included both understanding mathematical information, but also a wider understanding of mathematical content – such as quantity and number; dimension and shape; patterns, relationships and changes; and data and chance. The third skill in focus in the ETS report is “problem solving in technology-rich environments”. While on first glance somewhat cumbersome definition, in PIAAC this refers to digital skills, that is: “using digital technology, communication tools and networks to acquire and evaluate information, communicate with others and perform practical tasks”. Here, a wide range of digital skills were evaluated.

Obama introduces free community college plan in the US

Last week, 9th of January, Obama introduced his new plan for free community college during his visit to Tennessee. Obama reportedly commented on this: “For millions of Americans, community colleges are essential pathways to the middle class. I want to make it free.”

A video preview to the initiative was posted earlier on the White House Facebook page.


While all the financial details are not clear yet, the plan is indeed ambitious and is reported to cost approximately 60 billion dollars over 10 years – the key idea is that federal funds would cover 3/4 and state funds the remaining part. The proposal is that free tuition would be conditional – students would be expected to maintain a 2,5 GPA, be minimum part-time students and assure progression through their studies.

According to the American Associaytion of Community Colleges, there are over 1100 community colleges in the US, catering to nearly 13 million students (2012), representing almost half of all the undergraduate students in the US. 60% of the students are part time, and many work aside their studies. About one third of the students are first generation to attend college. In principle the sector has already been known for relatively lower tuition levels than one would find in the universities. The degrees awarded are associate degrees and various certificates. While many of the students already receive various kinds of state and federal financial aid, nearly 30% of the revenues for the institutions come from tuition fees.


Times Higher Education ranking tool to compare US universities

THEBy now most of us have been flooded with different kinds of rankings. THE, Shanghai and QS with their composite scores that rely rather heavily on research have been accompanied by a multitude rankings on all possible and impossible indicators – from university ICT visibility, employability and reputation to the best place to party.

THE World University Rankings has now also compiled a set of US universities in terms of Average SAT score, acceptance rate as well as total number of students enrolled. On THE website, one can also find the tool with out of state tuition fees included. Aligning these results with the ranking from the annual THE rankings, some interesting cases emerge.

The institutional profiles of the top universities clearly differ. Institutions such as UCLA and UC Berkeley have a much more open acceptance rate amongst the top ranked US universities. While Harvard has an acceptance rate of 6%, then Berkeley accepts 22% and UCLA 27% of the applicants, indicating that not all of the institutions in the top are equally selective. The institutions also vary greatly in terms of size, but it is not the case that the most selective institutions are the smallest, the emerging picture is rather varied. Harvard has in fact over 27 000 students, whereas CalTech has only just over 2200 students, and an acceptance rate of 13%. The highest acceptance rate amongst the top universities is at University of Washington which in the THE ranking is on the 25th place but takes in a whole 58% of the applicants.

The very largest institutions, University of Phoenix, Ashford, and Arizona State University are also amongst those that either are not ranked, or do not perform particularly well in the composite ranking. Of the five largest, only Arizona State University is part of the THE ranking, on #146 position. While on a global scale this is a good position, the students they attract in the US clearly have much lower average SAT scores than the better ranked institutions as their acceptance rate is at 89%. At the other end one can find Georgetown, a rather selective institution that accepts 18% of the students, but is well behind in the rankings of other equally selective institutions, being in fact ranked under Arizona, on #160.

Australia on top regarding total costs for studying

HSBC, an international banking organisation has examined study costs in 13 countries in terms of tuition and overall living costs to determine the most expensive countries to study in.

Their results indicate that Australia is with a relatively clear margin the most expensive country to study in – topping the list for both highest tuition fees as well as highest living costs. Australia is followed by US and UK in the list of most expensive countries, but the costs for studying in UK are over 20% lower than in Australia – from over 38,5 thousand dollars down to just over 30 thousand annually. It should also be noted that tuition fees in United Arab Emirates are also above those of UK, despite recent considerable increases in UK.

With a clear margin the cheapest country to study in is Germany, where average annual tuition is 625 dollars, and living costs account for 5650, about 40% of those in Australia.

Average cost of studying in 13 countries (Source: HSBC.com)

Average cost of studying in 13 countries (Source: HSBC.com)

Read the whole review here.

Guest blogger: Explaining postdoc internationalization at US universities

Dr. Brendan Cantwell (Michigan State University)

Dr. Brendan Cantwell
(Michigan State University)

This guest entry is written by Dr. Brendan Cantwell who is currently employed as an assistant professor at the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. His current research interests include higher education organization, governance and policy, with focus on comparative education, political economy and theory. 

Since the 1990s over 50% of all postdoctoral researchers (‘postdocs’) working at universities in the United States (US) have been temporary visa holders, or ‘international’. This makes postdocs the most internationalized group at American universities.

The fact that over 50% of postdocs are international is especially striking when compared to student enrollments; international students accounted for only 3.7% of total enrollments in the US during the 2011/2012 academic year. Why, then, do most postdocs come from abroad?

Over parts of the past five years I have studied the employment of international postdocs, primarily in the US but also in the United Kingdom. One of my objectives was to understand why so many researchers work as postdocs abroad. I began this research qualitatively by interviewing international postdocs and their supervisors. I examined the experiences of international postdocs, the role international postdocs play in the production of knowledge, and the process by which postdocs become employed internationally.  From these studies I drew two main conclusions.

first graph

First, international postdoc mobility requires demand for postdocs from aboard, as well as the supply of internationally mobile researchers. Global expansion of higher education, and especially rapid growth of higher education systems in Asia, produced a large supply of PhD researchers looking for jobs abroad. But professors also had to be willing to hire international postdocs. In other words, postdoc mobility would be impossible if there were not individual professors and universities interested in hiring international postdocs.