Adult Education: Swedish Lessons for America

Guest Blogger: Rachel Morota


IKEA, H&M, Vikings, and fathers pushing prams; these are just some of the things that the Swedes take pride in. Their success with adult education is another.

Sweden strongly values lifelong learning. This has driven a large number of older students into higher education: with 66% of citizens aged 25-64 participating in formal and non-formal education, the country has the highest level of participation in adult education amongst OECD countries. In fact, a quarter of Sweden’s college graduates are 25 or older.

As increasingly complex jobs require higher education, policymakers in both the U.S. and Sweden are trying to encourage adults to enroll in courses to enhance the proportion of the population with degrees. However, unlike the U.S., which is struggling to get adults to return to the classroom, in Sweden there’s a broad consensus that “You’re never too old to learn.”

One reason that older learners return to school in Sweden is because “the state is generous,” according to Agnieszka Bron, the chair of education at Stockholm University. In addition to free tuition, adult students are eligible for subsidized childcare and allowances in Sweden. They can also request low-cost loans for living expenses, especially if they are leaving their jobs to pursue higher education (during which their employer must hold their place, albeit without pay.)

With little support for its own populace, the U.S. has a lot to learn from Sweden if it wants to boost educational enrolment amongst adults. And it needs to do so fast. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the growth of the American knowledge economy means that by 2020, 65% of all jobs will require some form of college or university training. Unfortunately, the Center estimates at the current rate, the country will fall 5 million workers short.

To find out more about what the differences between the U.S. and Sweden’s higher education policies, check out Jon Marcus’ article here.

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