On Campus

‘Glitch’ in OECD educational attainment data

While mulling over the Organisation for Educational Co-operation and Development’s most recent annual education statistics, researchers in the United States discovered a fairly significant error in the OECD’s educational attainment numbers for the U.S. The data problem apparently may extend to other countries’ attainment figures as well:

It was in analyzing the OECD numbers that King and her staff noticed that they showed the U.S. as having dropped to 19th, from 10th in 2005, in the proportion of citizens with a sub-baccalaureate (or, in the United States’ case, associate) degrees. The steep decline, from 9 percent to 5 percent of citizens, was accompanied in the OECD data by an equally sharp (and equally unlikely) rise in the proportion of Americans with a baccalaureate degree, to 35 from 30 percent, and to 2nd place from 6th place. (A spreadsheet comparing the 2006 and 2005 numbers in various categories can be found here.)

After ACE officials brought the issue to the attention of OECD, the international group admitted that its researchers had “mistakenly categorized those academic associate degrees” as baccalaureate degrees, King said. In an interview Friday, Michael Davidson, a senior analyst in OECD’s education directorate, acknowledged that a “mistake was made” in the mapping of U.S. programs to international classifications, and said that OECD was at work correcting the data.

Several other countries showed multiple point changes between 2005 and 2006, which Davidson said in the interview Friday would be surprising under normal circumstances, given how difficult it is to achieve significant movement quickly in most countries. He said the OECD would review the data for other countries to ensure that the “glitch” that occurred in the United States numbers was not replicated for other nations.

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