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PolitiFact: Laura Tyson half right, half wrong on statements about U.S. graduation statistics

The statement

The United States is "number 14, number 15" in college graduation rates, and "we're leading the world in high school dropout rates."

Laura Tyson, Aug. 15 on ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour.

The ruling

Laura Tyson, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers and the National Economic Council under President Bill Clinton, discussed what she considers a root problem with the current high unemployment rate.

"Let me turn to investment in education. It is the case — we used to be number one in the world in college graduation rates. We are now number 14, number 15,'' she said. "We're leading the world in high school dropout rates."

Was she right about the United States ranking 14th or 15th internationally in college graduation rates and first in high school dropout rates?

We turned to statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which tracks trends in 32 large, industrialized democracies, making it a reliable way to compare the United States to its international peers.

We found a table of college graduation rates that compared 22 countries in 2007, and the United States does indeed rank 14th in that group of nations, with 36.5 percent of the population having a college degree. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Sweden and the United Kingdom all ranked higher. Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Switzerland all ranked lower.

The OECD doesn't calculate high school dropout rates, but it does track graduation rates.

We found that the United States has the eighth-lowest high-school graduation rate among its peers, trailing Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Norway, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Comparable countries with a lower graduation rate are Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey. So on this one, Tyson is off.

Several experts cautioned that college graduation rates in some countries can be skewed by the presence of a lot of foreign college students. And there is some variation in the nature and quality of the statistics, but OECD is generally reliable.

So, Tyson was right about college graduation rates, but wrong about high-school dropout rates. We rate her statement Half True.

Edited for print. For more, go to PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: Laura Tyson half right, half wrong on statements about U.S. graduation statistics 08/19/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 19, 2010 8:44pm]

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