In 2008, the United States spent $10,995 per student on elementary and secondary education, which was 35 percent higher than the OECD average of $8,169. At the postsecondary level, U.S. expenditures per student were $29,910, more than twice as high as the OECD average of $13,461.
This indicator uses material from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report Education at a Glance to compare countries’ expenditures on education using expenditures per student from both public and private sources and total education expenditures as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). The latter measure allows a comparison of countries’ expenditures relative to their ability to finance education. Private sources of expenditures include payments from households for school-based expenses such as tuition, transportation fees, book rentals, or food services, as well as private funds raised by institutions.
In 2008, expenditures per student for the United States were $10,995 at the combined elementary and secondary level, which was 35 percent higher than the average of $8,169 for the OECD member countries reporting data (see table A-22-1). The expenditure per student measure is based on full-time-equivalent (FTE) student enrollment rather than headcounts. At the postsecondary level, U.S. expenditures per student were $29,910, which was more than twice as high as the OECD average of $13,461. Expenditures per student varied widely across the OECD countries: at the combined elementary and secondary level, expenditures ranged from $2,284 in Mexico and $2,635 in Chile to $16,909 in Luxembourg; at the postsecondary level, they ranged from $5,780 in Estonia to $20,903 in Canada, $21,648 in Switzerland, and $29,910 in the United States.
Among the OECD countries reporting data in 2008, the top five countries spending the highest percentage of their GDP on total education expenditures were Iceland (7.9 percent), Korea (7.6 percent), Israel (7.3 percent), Norway (7.3 percent), and the United States (7.2 percent) (see table A-22-1). Looking at education expenditures by level, the percentage of its GDP (4.1 percent) that the United States spent on elementary and secondary education was higher than the average of GDP spent by other reporting OECD countries (3.8 percent). Compared with the percentage of its GDP that the United States spent on elementary and secondary education, 10 countries spent a higher percentage, 20 countries spent a lower percentage, and 1 country spent the same percentage. Among OECD countries, Iceland spent the highest percentage (5.1 percent) of its GDP on elementary and secondary education. At the postsecondary level, the United States spent 2.7 percent of its GDP on education, which was higher than the average percentage spent by OECD countries (1.5 percent) and higher than the percentage spent by any other OECD country reporting data.
A country’s wealth (defined as GDP per capita) is positively associated with expenditures per student on education at the combined elementary/secondary level and at the postsecondary level. For example, the education expenditures per student (both elementary/secondary and postsecondary) for each of the 7 OECD countries with the highest GDP per capita in 2008 were higher than the OECD average expenditures per student. The expenditures per student for the 10 OECD countries with the lowest GDP per capita were below the OECD average at both the elementary/secondary level and at the postsecondary level.
Education expenditures are from public revenue sources (governments) and private revenue sources. Private sources include payments from households for school-based expenses such as tuition, transportation fees, book rentals, or food services, as well as funds raised by institutions through endowments or returns on investments. Data for private school expenditures at the elementary and secondary levels are estimated for some countries, including the United States. Per-student expenditures are based on public and private full-time-equivalent (FTE) enrollment figures and on current expenditures and capital outlays from both public and private sources, where data are available. Purchasing power parity (PPP) indexes are used to convert other currencies to U.S. dollars (i.e., absolute terms). Within-country consumer price indexes are used to adjust the PPP indexes to account for inflation because the fiscal year has a different starting date in different countries. Luxembourg data are excluded from the graphs because of anomalies with respect to their GDP per capita data (large revenues from international finance institutions distort the wealth of the population). For more information on classification of expenditures for international comparisons, see Appendix C – Finance . For more information on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), see Appendix C – International Education Definitions.
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