Higher education attainment is on the rise across the countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a group of 36 mostly wealthy or relatively wealthy nations.
OECD released the newest installment of its annual Education at a Glance report on Tuesday. Among the findings, 44 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds held a tertiary degree across the OECD member states in 2018, a nine percentage point increase from 2008, when just 35 percent did.
The employment rate for adults with a tertiary degree is nine percentage points higher than the employment rate for adults with an upper secondary degree, and tertiary-educated adults earn on average 57 percent more.
This year's report focuses on tertiary education, a category that encompasses sub-baccalaureate programs, as well as programs at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels.
In an editorial accompanying the report, Angel Gurría, the OECD secretary-general, emphasized the rise in attainment and continuing wage premium enjoyed by tertiary graduates as well as potential skill mismatches.
"Ensuring the right supply of skills in a rapidly changing world is challenging," he wrote. "Adult participation in education and training is on average 40 percentage points lower among low-educated adults -- those that need it most -- than it is for highly educated ones. Still less than 15 percent of new entrants to bachelor’s programs study engineering, manufacturing and construction and less than 5 percent study information and communication technologies -- even though these fields are most commonly associated with technological progress and yield the best labor-market outcomes."
"The share of the population attaining a master’s or doctoral degree has remained constant across generations," Gurría added. "These degrees continue to be in high demand and offer attractive returns on the initial investment. While the average annual cost is similar to that of a bachelor’s degree program in more than half of OECD countries, graduates of these programs earn 32 percent more, on average."
Gurría also called attention to the increasing costs of tertiary education and the growing role played by tuition and other sources of private funding in paying for higher education across the OECD countries.
"Between 2005 and 2016, spending on tertiary institutions increased at more than double the rate of student enrollments to about $15,600 per student on average across OECD countries," Gurría wrote. "Across the majority of OECD countries, private sources have been called on to contribute more as countries introduce or raise tuition fees. Most of this increase in spending has been devoted to core education services; the number of academic staff at the tertiary level increased on average by about 1 percent over this period, almost on par with the number of students enrolled."