UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
Historically, the high level of the productivity of the American workforce has been a key driver of the country's prosperity. Productivity is tightly linked to educational attainment.
Through programs like the GI Bill, Pell Grants, and the subsidized student loan program, the U.S. greatly expanded access to a college education. At the close of World War II, the Census indicates that only about 5 percent of the adult population in the United States had attained a bachelor's degree. By 2012, the Census tells us that 28.6% of all adults have attained an undergraduate degree.
However, the rest of the world has been rapidly closing the gap, and in some cases, surpassing U.S. educational attainment. For example, the U.S. Department of Education reports that, "While U.S. 4th-graders' average [math] scores increased between 1995 and 2007, 4th-graders in Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore consistently outperformed their U.S. peers in mathematics, as did 4th-graders in the Russian Federation and Chinese Taipei . . . U.S. 4th-graders lost ground relative to their peers in England and Latvia who improved at a faster rate between 1995 and 2007, but 4th-graders gained ground relative to their peers in Hungary, The Netherlands, Austria, and the Czech Republic."