Sara Routhier, Managing Editor and Outreach Director, has professional experience as an educator, SEO specialist, and content marketer. She has over five years of experience in the insurance industry. As a researcher, data nerd, writer, and editor she strives to curate educational, enlightening articles that provide you with the must-know facts and best-kept secrets within the overwhelming world o...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity-backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He also has an MBA from the University of South Florida. ...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Feb 1, 2012

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When considering whether or not to pursue higher education and take out student loans, consider the following: contrary to popular belief, the United States is not the most educated country. While we may still reign supreme as the most powerful, the percentage of our educated population wouldn’t earn us the gold medal. Nor would we get the silver. And, believe it or not, we wouldn’t even take the bronze. Rather, the United States ranks at fourth place in the education race.


According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), there are three countries whose percentage of educated population ranks higher than the United States. This report may be indicative of not only numbers, but also of other countries’ views towards education as a whole. When the United States has an educated population of 41 percent—less than half—and others are steadily passing us, what does that say about the way our society values education? While the notion of government-sponsored free education and the abolishment of student loans is a financial impossibility, these numbers may lend credence to recent protestors’ opinions that our financial funding system needs to be given a second look.


Here are the top 10 most educated countries according to the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2011 report.


10. Finland

Population total: 5,363,624

Population educated: 37 percent

An interesting note about Finland is that its college system removes the burden of tuition from its students. For citizens of the European Union (EU), and some exchange students, there is no need for student loans as tuition is completely subsidized by the government.


9. Australia

Population total: 22,328,800

Population educated: 37 percent

Australia’s government does not grant free education, but rather Australia’s college prices are on par with many of the U.S.’s state-funded schools. Despite that fact, though, Australia has breached the top ten charts for shepherding 37 percent of its population through its university system.


8. United Kingdom

Population total: 62,218,761

Population educated: 37 percent

According to the OECD, the United Kingdom ranks third in the world for the highest tuition fees. While located in Europe, UK students don’t share the luxury of many of the EU’s subsidized college tuition perks. Rather, students from our mother country are just as familiar with student loans as we are.


7. Norway

Population total: 4,885,240

Population educated: 37 percent

Norway’s students have the luxury of attending public universities and colleges free from the burden of tuition thanks to government subsidies.


6. South Korea

Population total: 48,875,000

Population educated: 39 percent

South Korea boasts the second highest tuition fees in the world. Student loans are just as prevalent on this Asian peninsula as they are here in the States—and so are students protesting the high cost of college education. However, they’re seat at sixth in the world is a good 2 percent higher than their closest competitor.


5. New Zealand

Population total: 4,367,800

Population educated: 40 percent

New Zealand, like its southern neighbor Australia, doesn’t subsidize students’ college educations. However, their average price for a full bachelor’s degree is comparable to the cost of a single year at some the United State’s universities. That may be a key reason as to why they now boast an educated population of 40 percent.


4. United States

Population total: 307,006,550

Population educated: 41 percent

Home sweet home. We top the OECD’s rankings for the highest tuition costs in the world. As a result, our student loan debt has now soared above the country’s outstanding credit card debt. Despite that fact, and despite the amount of protestors who have pitted themselves against the education lending industry, we have still handed degrees out to 41 percent of our population.


3. Japan

Population total: 127,450,460

Population educated: 44 percent

Our 1940s-war-time-enemy-turned-close-friend, Japan has become nearly synonymous with words such as “electronics,” “technology,” and “innovation.” Boasting a very large population, particularly when compared to those on this top 10 chart who belong to the EU, Japan has successfully pushed 44 percent of its population through student loans and university programs.  


2. Israel

Population total: 7,624,600

Population educated: 45 percent

One of our most trusted and loyal allies, Israel shares a different view from us when it comes to the student loan industry and its higher education facilities. Citizens of Israel receive free college education, but in return for a different kind of payment—one that the vast majority of college-goers here in the States would never agree to. If students agree to enlist in the Israeli army for a few years, the army reciprocates that favor by paying for a student’s education, relieving them of student loans.


1. Canada

Population total: 34,108,752

Population educated: 50 percent

Canada takes the cake for being the most educated country. One out of every two citizens is college educated—but, contrary to popular belief, Canadian universities are not free. Students pay their way through college and take out student loans much like students do here in the United States. While their prices are lower than many colleges found here in the States, Canada’s population is also just over one-tenth our size.