Highly educated U.S. millennials lag behind foreign peers in key skills

by Grace

The most highly educated generation in the United States compares poorly with international peers in literacy and numeracy skills.

Despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous generation, America’s millennials, on average, demonstrate weak skills in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers. This finding from a new study by Educational Testing Service (ETS) raises the question of whether we can thrive as a nation when a large segment of our society lacks the skills required for higher-level employment and meaningful engagement in our democracy.

America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future uses data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to compare the U.S. to 21 other member countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The report focuses on young adults born after 1980 who were 16–34 years of age at the time of the assessment. PIAAC measured adult skills across three domains: literacy, numeracy and problem solving in a technology-rich environment (PS-TRE).

They also compare poorly with earlier generations in the U.S. 

… Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills when compared to results from previous years of U.S. adult surveys. As a country, simply providing more education may not be the answer. There needs to be a greater focus on skills — not just educational attainment — or we are likely to experience adverse consequences that could undermine the fabric of our democracy and community.

Even the best and the brightest in the U.S. compare poorly with their international peers.

Additionally, the data reveal that even our best performing and most educated millennials, those who are native born, and those with the greatest economic advantage in relative terms, do not perform favorably in comparison to their peers internationally. In fact, in numeracy, the U.S.’s top performing millennials scored lower than top-performing millennials in 15 of the 22 participating countries, indicating that the skills challenge is systemic. Low-scoring U.S. millennials ranked last and scored lower than their peers in 19 participating countries.

Have we misplaced our faith in more years of schooling, degrees, credentials, and certificates”?

Most troubling is that our faith in more years of schooling, degrees, credentials, and certificates to produce better outcomes is vividly shown to be misplaced. More time in school is not producing Americans with more or better skills. The people who will work, earn, support families, create jobs, make policy, take leadership positions, and be entrusted generally with protecting, defending, and continuing our democracy are less prepared to do so than any generation in American history.

America’s millenials are “overeducated and unprepared”

This may be related:

Baby Boomers’ kids are doing worse than their parents

The Typical Millennial Is $2,000 Poorer Than His Parents at This Age

More young people are living in poverty and fewer have jobs compared their parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers, in 1980.

Even though a higher percentage of today’s young people have college degrees, more live in poverty.

Also:  Lack of learning in college is a reason for poor job prospects

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Madeline J. Goodman, Anita M. Sands, Richard J. Coley, America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future, Educational Testing Service, February 2015.

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2 Comments to “Highly educated U.S. millennials lag behind foreign peers in key skills”

  1. I am not sure how the authors can confidently say that skills are declining with respect to earlier generations, since this report appears to say that this is the first time this skill assessement has been administered to adults in this age range. The fact that our young adults do so poorly on the assessment of numeracy even if they went to college or grad school I am sure is a direct result of the fact that we don’t require much in the way of math courses in college unless a student is in a STEM field or some areas of business. Most students graduate without ever having seen a rigorous math course. But that isn’t new. Math requirements in US colleges have always been weak. So I can’t imagine that has changed much. The reality is, most adults in the US, whether millenial or older, are seriously ignorant of math.

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  2. I misstated when I wrote compared to “earlier generations” since they compared the latest tests to the one in 2003. Sorry about that.

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