The United States spends more money than any other country, and its elite institutions are the world's best. But overall the system is wasteful, fails too many — and is falling behind other countries.
No, the topic isn't health care — it's higher education.
The latest stinging report came last week from a state colleges group arguing the United States isn't producing enough college graduates, especially in science. Similar gloominess emanates from business groups and even the Obama administration, whose top education goals include again leading the world in proportion of college graduates.
But is it really fair to try to rank American higher education against the rest of the world?
And if you do, is the once-vaunted U.S. system really losing its edge?
A few contrarian experts say no. The most vocal is Cliff Adelman, a sharp-tongued data hound who after a long and influential career in government now works at the independent Institute for Higher Education Policy, where he feels freer to rock the boat.
"We've got a country full of masochists, people who love to be flagellated, they want to hear a bad story," Adelman said in an interview. "We hesitate to call it propaganda, but it is."
For years, Adelman has railed against tables showing other developed countries bounding ahead in college achievement. In a new paper Wednesday, he lays out his case against the most commonly cited international higher education comparisons, which typically cite annual reports from the Organization of Economic and Comparative Development, a consortium of the world's leading industrialized countries.
It's not that Adelman and like-minded experts, including Art Hauptman, a prominent independent education consultant, think American higher education is perfect.
It's just doing a better job than you might believe from the spin put on the annual OECD benchmarks.
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