Fun Facts #15: Percentages of J high school grads matriculating into college by prefecture


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Hi Blog.  As a Sunday Tangent, here are the Ministry of Education’s latest figures (2009) for Japanese high school students entering college.  In most prefectures, it’s only about half the graduates:

Source:  Eiken Facts 2010, “Eiken Shikakku Shutokusha Kakutoku de Daigaku no Miryoku Zukuri o”, (Zaidan Houjin Nihon Eiken Kyouryokukai/MEXT 2010, pg 5)

A cursory look reveals that Okinawa has by far the fewest percentage of students going on to college (the national average is 53.9%), and Tokyo/Kyoto (Kyoto allegedly being the place with the highest number of colleges per capita) the highest.  Hokkaido is significantly below average as well (third from the bottom), but it’s still higher than Iwate.  See how your prefecture stacks up.

As this is a Fun Facts category, I’ll leave interpretations to others.  But this is significantly less than the American percentages, according to the US Department of Labor, reporting that 70.1% of high school graduates went to college last year.  Given that university is significantly more expensive in the US than in Japan (it costs at least a luxury car per year these days in tuition alone to go to, say, an elite private or Ivy League), I’m disinclined to say it’s a matter of economics.  Thoughts?  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

26 comments on “Fun Facts #15: Percentages of J high school grads matriculating into college by prefecture

  • sendaiben says:

    Hi Debito

    Don’t be too quick to dismiss economics, particularly in poorer prefectures in Japan. The US higher education system looks more expensive on paper, but there seem to be all sorts of chances to get scholarships, funding, loans, and work on campus so that most students don’t pay the list price.

    On the other hand, Japanese university students seldom have access to scholarships, and loans have to be guaranteed by family members with acceptable credit ratings: if they are unable or unwilling to do so, the students are not eligible for loans. Loans are also much lower than they would be in the UK, for example, and barely cover tuition.

    Like SHS until the recent reforms, the Japanese university system seems egalitarian on the surface, but in fact the barriers to entry for students from poor families are formidable (even applying costs several hundred dollars).

  • Missing in the statistics of are the number of dropouts in the USA. Maybe the reason the percentage graduates who go to college is higher because many of those who wouldn’t have gone to college in the USA have already dropped out.

    “”Our research paints a much starker picture of the challenges we face in high school graduation. When 30 percent of our ninth-graders [ultimately] fail to finish high school with a diploma, we are dealing with a crisis that has frightening implications for our … future,” says Christopher Swanson, director of the EDE Research Center.”

    In the two minutes I spent looking, I didn’t find any statistics for the dropout rate in Japan.

  • mgsheftall says:

    In the early 1990s, before the full ramifications of the Bubble Collapse were really appreciated, my Japanese colleagues in tertiary education were wont to remark to the effect that “These days, college is the new ‘high school'”.

    I wonder how much these matriculation percentages have varied since then…

  • From what I’ve heard, Japanese students can hardly drop out if they try…though it may be more competitive than some countries to actually get a university place. Anyway, the number of places is basically fixed (on a short-term basis) so this may be a function of infrastructure more than anything else.

  • Two things. First, a sizable portion of college entrants in America never graduate; a figure from 5 years ago shows that only 54% of American matriculants graduate with a degree within 6 years of matriculation (source: unfortunately not highly authoritative, but gives a good ballpark figure). I didn’t find figures for Japan for comparison, but I seem to hear a lot less about people dropping out of university over here. As for the second thing, I feel like talking about Ivy League tuition costs is somewhat a red herring; it hardly represents the average situation for Americans going to college. Public schools, especially with in-state tuition, are an order of magnitude cheaper than your quoted luxury-car-per-year cost.

    — Points taken. Keep them coming. That’s why I put this post up and took a stance. Thanks.

  • But then there is the even more basic issue. Do we really need everyone to go to college?

    These days, a growing number of US college graduates with $100,000+ in debt are finding their BA in Women’s Studies is not landing them a job, let alone one that can pay off that debt. Meanwhile experienced plumbers and car mechanics can easily make 6 figures. I think an analysis by field/major, and making allowances for vocational schools as a legitimate alternative, rather than college matriculation as a whole is more practical if we’re going to be talking about what the ideal percentage of people going to higher education should be.

    If everyone gets to go to college, but nobody does pre-med, then we have 2 problems. Who will do heart surgery? and worse, who will clean up the mess afterwards?
    I think we’ll just end up with 15,000 studies debating the causes of the shortage of heart surgeons written by bitter sociologists who are angry because Starbucks service is so damned slow now that there are only 2 barristas on staff, and they spend more time griping “..and I have a BA in Political Science ” than grinding beans.

    Although it is sad to see barriers to the poor or the geographically isolated, I find it just as sad that a middle class person dooms him/herself to 20 years of debt, demoting themselves into semi-poverty, because they choose not to learn any marketable skills, and instead pay $100,000 for what ends up being a grad student spending 10 minutes grading their final exams while semi-conscious at 2AM on a chilly May morning (the more expensive/prestigious the school, the less likely the profs will actually be handling all of the educational duties) . The Good Will Hunting technique (self study by actually reading a lot of books) would likely yield the same amount of “education”, probably more. Better off learning how to repair TVs, and spend your nights and weekends having fun reading history.

    ..but even worse is assuming that a college education is a right, and that the government should back loans to anyone who wants them. The problem is that by making money no object to the student, you also make money no object to the schools, thus colleges can charge whatever they want, knowing the government will cough up the money.

    If any government started offering a $5000/year loan for college tuition to any and all, would there be ANY college administrator in their right mind who would set tuition at only $4000/year? Obviously not. What’s worse, the lowest tuition would be something like $7000/year, since they would know most people could get the $5000 and then find that extra $2000 on their own. Congratulations, your program to make college affordable has just increased tuition and student debt levels. But you HAVE made the colleges richer and the government able to collect more interest on loans. And since most studies on the “need” for higher education are done by…colleges or the government, well, if you still need an explanation, I give up.

    Where’s a Golgafrincham B Ark when you need it?

    — Yow. Most of this line of argument (particularly the top half) seems to me the product of the excesses of overstudying/irrelevant studying you decry.

    I for one am a big fan of college. And I’ve found that people who don’t go to college are often remarkably different, in their ability to deal with complicated social problems as well as their temperament towards lifetime learning, than from those who do (and not in a good way — my previous marriage demonstrated that to me).

  • Well, two things:

    One, there are a number of Japanese who don’t graduate high school. So you might have to adjust that number of continuing learners to the graduation rates out of high school for both America and Japan.

    Secondly, not everyone who starts in America even finishes. I think the number of degree holders at Age 30 in America is maybe 29%. (I held two by then and know I am in the minority, but not certain how small.)

    It’s probably worth throwing in that, with juku included, the Japanese spend a lot more time in formal education than young people do in America. And so all these comparisons might not amount to very much since they aren’t based on what people actually KNOW.

  • Thanks for the interesting breakdown of figures. My perception has been that joining the middle class of Japan, so to speak, requires some sort of HE degree, hence the permanent spread of private universities. I admit to being a little surprised at the rates although not sadly about Iwate-ken. Is this an ongoing trend or can applicants really not afford fees at the moment? By the way, I do agree with Debito that there is more to education than a final salary (or joining the middle class!) but that’s another tangent.

    The US participation rates are famously high, but are you sure that it is the best comparison? Japan is still much higher than the UK’s modest 35-40% and I would like to know the rates for Germany. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find good links right now, but here’s one for the record.

  • I agree with Level3. I`m not at all convinced that college education gives one an ability to
    “to deal with complicated social problems as well as their temperament towards lifetime learning, than those who don’t”.
    If anything it seems to make people have a false sense of confidence, and even a bit arrogant hidden under pride of the over priced degree. Curious people will always have a temperment towards learning , college or not.

    — Dunno about that. I find that many people in positions of power who DON’T go to college are nastily predisposed towards those who do, and have to exert their own false sense of confidence. “Get me my coffee, College Boy!” etc. And I for one would not have learned how to write well without going to college, which would have affected my temperament towards future learning. But to each their own, of course.

  • I start college next spring. I am low income, so I am getting grants to pay for my college, and my only worry is if they might try to pin me in the US to pay for it.

    Anyway, I have to agree with Jack. There may be less people in Japan joining college after highschool, but the ones that do tend to stay, unlike the American fratboy who quits after he realizes that he has to do WORK again.

  • has figures for Heisei 14 showing that 5.7% of high school entrants didn’t graduate in 3 years and 8% of university entrants didn’t graduate in 4 years. Compare to US figures of 71% of high school students graduating in 4 years (source: and 54% of university entrants graduating within 6 years (source: see post #5).

    The picture is still incomplete because we need the rate of junior high students who proceed to high school; I’m fairly certain the rate should be about 100% in the US but I don’t know how high it is here in Japan. Anyone care to find this piece of the puzzle?

  • Taikibansei says:

    The statistics quoted are misleading–part of the problem being the comparatively low high school graduation rates in the US.

    “As we have already seen, the national graduation rate for the class of 1998 was 71% (see Figure 3). For white students the graduation rate was 78%. For African-American students nationwide the graduation rate for the class of 1998 was 56%. For Latino students nationwide the graduation rate was 54%.11”

    Matriculation Rates (1999):

    Country Male Female Combined Average
    Japan 48.2 49.6 48.9
    United States 42.4 51.7 46.9
    Source: Nihon Kokusei Zue (Abe, 2000, p. 461)

    “…on average, 97.7% of these [Japanese junior high school] students choose to enter high school (MEXT, 2007a, 2007b), with graduation rates extremely high. (E.g., in 2005, 97.9 % of the high school population graduated on time, with problems with school life/peers the main [38.6%] reason given by the few students who did not—see MEXT, 2006.)” (Mulvey, p. 18)
    Mulvey, B. (2010). University accreditation in Japan: Problems and possibilities for reforming EFL education. The Language Teacher, 34 (1), 15-24.

    “An all-time high 85 percent of U.S. adults age 25 and over had completed at least high school in 2003, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Also in 2003, 27 percent of adults age 25 and over had a college degree, another record.”

    I hope the above demonstrate the complexity of the issue. E.g., even an “all-time high” of 85 percent (and that number apparently includes delayed graduates) would be well below the 91-93% overall high school graduation rate (not including delayed graduates) one typically finds here in Japan.

    Finally, economic issues are a critical factor here. I was involved, as an administrator, in student recruitment at a university in one of the prefectures with low matriculation percentages. It was (is) also considered one of the poorer sections of Japan…something it shares with the other prefectures with low matriculation rates. As I was told over and over again (often by the parents themselves), parents in these places just don’t have the money to send their kids on to university. They want to, there are university spaces available, and their kids qualify academically; the parents just can’t afford it.

  • couples of things, Sarah Palin has a degree, so does George Bush, scary that is.

    There exists an empty desk in my daughter’s JHS san-nensei class room, hasn’t been sat in for over 2 years. That student will graduate JHS.

    Are the Japanese stats quoted for college only or for all forms of post secondary education? What about the semmon gakko’s , 2 year colleges, manga drawing schools, beauty culture classes etc. What do you have to do in Japan to get the equivalent of a mechanic’s or carpenters journeyman ticket?

  • @Jack

    I used to work at the BOE here, and a figure of about 98% was thrown around for students in Japan going on to high school. Can’t back it up right now though, but it might be a starting point…

  • The table says “現役進学率”. “現役” [gen’eki] means college freshmen who are graduates of high schools in the same year. The opposite of [gen’eki] is “受験浪人” or “過年度生” who are preparing for the entrance exam of the next year after failing an entrance exam of the intended college. According to wikipedia, rounin make up 23% of freshmen, which is not included in the table in the article.

    This report has statistics of enrollments of each country.
    enrollment ratio
    primary education (female/male) 100%/100%
    secondary educatiom (female/male) 98%/98%
    tertiary education (female/male) 54%62%
    primary education (female/male) 93%/92%
    secondary educatiom (female/male) 89%/87%
    tertiary education (female/male) 96%/68%

    I think the low enrollment ratios in lower education are more problematic.

    — Thanks for this.

  • treblekickeresq says:

    The Nov. 11 2008 Asahi Shinbun had a graph that quoted 2005 OECD data for higher education drop out rates. For Japan the number includes universities and tandais. I don’t know if the American figures included community colleges or not.

    USA 53% of students dropped out. The graph didn’t say define drop out any clearer.
    New Zealand 46%
    Hungary 45%
    England 36%
    Norway 35%
    Germany 23%
    Russia 23%
    France 21%
    Denmark 15%
    Japan 10%

    The description of the graph went on to point out that low drop out rates do not mean the desire to study is greater in Japan. A Japanese survey of 50,000 students found students claiming they did an average of 5.3 hours of homework a week. In the USA it was 13-14 hours of homework a week.

  • comment #8: “Japan is still much higher than the UK’s modest 35-40%”

    From the May Euraxess newsletter (will be on-line, but apparently not yet, at ):

    “In Japan, 47% of the age cohort go to university, a
    comparatively low level. By comparison, in Italy the
    proportion is 55%, 56% in the UK, 62% in the US, and
    71% in Sweden. At the doctoral level, Japan has a
    lower number of doctoral graduates each year. This is
    around 7,000 per year. In the UK it is 7,660, with the
    USA and China each graduating over 20,000 doctoral
    students annually.”

    (The bias against PhDs entering industry in Japan seems widely acknowledged.)

  • The question isn’t bias against Japanese PhD’s, but in what you get your doctorate in. To use the above example, is someone with a PhD in Women’s Studies someone you would want to hire for anything other than a teaching job in Women’s Studies? Arguments about the person’s research skills and intelligence aside (although I recognize that they are passionate and interested in the subject I would question the common sense of anyone who chose to get a PhD in something that they can’t get a job in) probably not when for most jobs someone with a BA or equivalent could do the job just as well.

    I imagine that most engineering/science PhD’s probably do not have the same problem finding a job.

  • treblekickeresq Says:

    “The description of the graph went on to point out that low drop out rates do not mean the desire to study is greater in Japan. A Japanese survey of 50,000 students found students claiming they did an average of 5.3 hours of homework a week. In the USA it was 13-14 hours of homework a week.”

    Bilqees Pate wrote a interesting piece on the positive and negative effects of homework. (

    This topic is a popular topic among psychologists, and I found many papers on the subject, however, it was pay-to-read.

    — Back on topic, please.

  • Perhaps more Japanese are becoming aware that even with a good college degree, the starting pay at pretty much any company will be garbage barely above minimum wage so they see no point of getting a degree since they can make the same (if not more) working as an arubaita. Whereas graduating with a good degree in the states usually will lead to a job that pays well above minimum wage.

  • What the high school graduation rates from America don’t show is the racist and class divided society that still exists. According to 2009 US government stats, 4.8% of whites, 9.9% of African-Americans and 18.3% of Hispanics and 14.6% of Native American students fail to graduate from high school.

    Graduation rates for students who attend school in high poverty, racially segregated, and urban school districts lag from 15 to 18 percent behind their peers. For African-Americans living in high poverty districts the dropout rate hovers around 50%. In NY state only 31.9% of Hispanic and 35.1% of African-American students graduate from high school, contrasted with 75.3% of white students who graduate.

    I wonder if economic conditions in Japan will cause a higher dropout rate in the future. My own university students, while not caught in the throes of unbridled despair, are a lot more concerned about their future marketability and being able to live a comfortable life then their Bubble Generation counterparts were.

    On factor that makes it difficult to compare the US and Japan in this context was touched upon by James when he mentioned the empty seat in his daughter’s jhs classroom that will continue on to high school. I believe that throughout high school and university, many more American students will fail classes, be kept back in high school and forced to leave university because they do not perform to required standards. I have rarely seen this in Japan where, as Brian McVeigh says, students are viewed as cash cows to be milked for four years.

    I agree with Debito that tertiary education generally produces graduates who have a broader knowledge base, are able to think logically and are much more likely to continue on a path of lifelong learning. What a profession!!!

    — Please provide link to 2009 USG stats? Thanks.

  • – Please provide link to 2009 USG stats? Thanks.—


    I believe the % of African-Americans and Hispanics for example who don`t graduate from high school is much closer to 50%

  • “In 2004,according to a report co-authored by the Urban Institute and the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, only 50 percent of black students, 51 percent of Native Americans, and 53 percent of Hispanic students graduated from high school.
    Among African-American, Hispanic, and Native American males, the rates are even lower…”


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