Improving the Quality of Education in the U.S.

In order to meet SDG 4 - Quality Education - by 2030, we need to provide safe and inclusive learning environments for all. We must also ensure equitable access to education at all levels, including pre-primary and technical and vocational programs.
People Impacted
$ 803B
Potential Funding
I have this challenge
the problem
Nature and Context

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education, aims to ensure inclusive and equitable education at all levels for everyone.

This includes addressing the cost of college and student loan debt, access to early childhood development programs, rising student-teacher ratios in K-12 education, and more.

The U.S. spends 11.6% of public funding on education, which is well below the international standard of 15% (

Symptoms and Causes

Pre-primary Education

According to research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, during 2016-2018 4,215,000 (52%) of 3 and 4 years old were not in a pre-primary program. A figure that has not changed since 2009. Participation in a preschool program has been shown to help with developing a range of learning and social skills and is important for early childhood development.

K-12 Education

As of 2018, there are 130,930 K-12 schools in the United States, 70% of which are public (Education Week).

Federal projections estimate there will be 50.6 million students and 3.2 million full-time teachers in the Fall of 2021, with an average student to teacher ratio of 16:1 (Education Week). However, this varies greatly by state.

The 2015-16 school year was the first in which the majority of public school children were minorities (Education Week). Yet 79.3% of teachers are white. The vast majority of teachers are also women (76.5%) (National Center for Education Statistics).  

14% of new teachers resign by the end of their first year, 33% leave within their first 3 years, and almost 50% leave by their 5th year (Do Something).

Higher Education

Only 1 in 4 high school students graduate college-ready in the 4 core subjects of English, Reading, Math, and Science. This is significant considering 85% of current jobs and 90% of new jobs require some or more college or post-secondary education (Do Something).

  • 69.1% of high school completers attend college in the fall after they graduate - 63.1% attend 4-year schools and 36.9% attend 2-year institutions (

  • 10.4% of American adults are currently enrolled in college part-time or full-time (

  • 50.8% of all bachelor’s degrees are in 5 fields: business, health professions & related studies, social sciences & history, psychology, and biological & biomedical sciences (

  • 66% of associates’ degrees conferred are in 3 fields: general studies and/or humanities, health professions & related, and business (

The past 10 years have seen a significant decline in college attendance, and while there are many factors that play a part in the decision to seek higher education, the rising costs of colleges and the burdens associated with student loan debt are a huge barrier (read more in the Economic Impacts and Negative Effects sections below).

Technical & Vocational Education

Trade and vocational schools offer practical training and education to prepare students for skilled careers, such as carpentry, cosmetology, welding, and nowadays software development and other tech careers.

Enrollment in vocational programs and trade schools saw a significant decline at the end of the 1990s. This resulted in a shortage of skilled workers qualified to work in the manufacturing, infrastructure, and transportation industries especially. Now, all of these fields are expected to grow in the coming years—and many of those jobs likely won’t require a four-year degree (The Atlantic).

The rising costs of traditional degree programs, combined with the specific skillsets many jobs require (such as software and coding)- and that many vocational programs can prepare students with - has led to a shift in thinking about the value of alternative education programs to a 4-year degree (The Atlantic)


In 2018, 6.1% of children ages 3-18 lived in a household with no internet at all (Education Week). This only further compounds the unequal impacts the pandemic is having on children and families as schools have shifted to fully remote learning.

You can explore more education indicators with this interactive tool and view statistics nationally or by state. Explore active challenges and ideas seeking funding and leading technology solutions that address education-related issues.

the impact
Negative Effects

Student Loan Debt has far-reaching consequences. Recent college grads with student loan debt:

  • often have to settle for lower-paying, lower-skill jobs just so they can start paying their loan bills right away.

These consequences are also not equally distributed:

  • 33% of Hispanic and Latino borrowers delayed getting married and having children due to student loan debt (

  • 46% of Black student borrowers put off buying a home (

Economic Impact

Public School Spending

All levels of government spend a combined $720.9 billion, or $14,840 per pupil, to fund K-12 public education. State governments provide the majority of funding (46.7%) followed by local (45.6%) and Federal (7.7%) (

K-12 schools spend $612.7 billion ($12,612 per pupil) annually (

Student Loans

45.3 million people in the U.S. have student loan debt totaling $1.7 trillion (Federal Reserve). 95% of which is from federal loans and 45% from graduate school (

The average student loan debt is currently $37,693 but varies widely by type of loan, state, race/ethnicity, and gender. (

  • Those with master’s degrees owe an average of $71,318, increasing to over $100,000 for law school, and over $200,000 for medical school.

  • For federal student loans, the average debt is $36,510, compared to $54,921 for Private student loans.

The vast majority of student loan debt belongs to white students (55%) and women (58%) - who also have more debt associated with graduate school than men, yet 48% of Black students owe an average of 12.5% more than they borrowed, while 83% of White students owe 12% less over the same time period.

Success Metrics
  • The proportion of children enrolled in organized learning (one year before the official primary entry age), by gender (SDG Tracker).

  • The participation rate of youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training (SDG Tracker).

  • The number of youth and adults with information and communications technology (ICT) skills (SDG Tracker).

  • Reducing differences in education access and other indicators as a result of gender, location, wealth, and other characteristics such as disability status (SDG Tracker)

  • The number and diversity of qualified pre-primary, K-12 teachers, and university professors.

who benefits from solving this problem
Organization Types
  • K-12 Schools

  • Colleges and Universities

  • Private and Public Schools

  • School Districts and Boards

  • Education related nonprofits

  • Loan providers

  • Federal, state, and local governments

  • Federal government

  • Local government

  • School Boards and Districts

  • Colleges and Universities

  • Organizations running Pre-primary programs

  • Teachers and school administrators

  • Students

financial insights
Current Funding

According to data aggregated by X4Impact from the Security and Exchange Commission filings, since Q1 of 2019, $612M of private funding has been invested in companies working to create tech-based solutions addressing poverty in the U.S. $145M was deployed in Q4 of 2020 alone.

Potential Solution Funding

Based on data from over 600,000 tax returns filed by nonprofits in the US (data via X4Impact), on an average year, over 58,728 nonprofit organizations addressing education-related issues with a report an income of $279B in the US. There is also at least $488M in available grant funding.

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