September 16, 2019 | 62° F

American millennials lagging behind global peers

Photo by Dan Corey and Ramya Chitibomma |

Graphic by Dan Corey and Ramya Chitibomma. 

There is little room for Americans between the ages of 16 and 35 to brag over the results of the latest Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies test (PIAAC).

The United States ranked 16th in literacy and tied for last place in numeracy and “problem solving in technology-rich environments” compared to its 22 international peers, according to a study released on Feb. 17 by Education Testing Service, the world’s largest private non-profit education testing and assessment organization.

The trend data on adult skills in the U.S. provides evidence of a “relatively recent” decline in adult skill levels, according to the information collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development through PIAAC.

Millennials, as defined by the study, are the part of the population born after 1980 who were in their teens to early 30s during the 2012 assessment. During that time, millennials comprised 26.2 percent of the U.S. population and 35 percent of the civilian non-institutional labor force.

PIAAC tests the population of 22 member countries in literacy, numeracy and PS-TRE, while the ETS study focuses on the results of the 16-to-34 age demographic.

The report by ETS separates American millennial skills data by factors such as educational attainment, parental education attainment levels, origin and ethnicity.

The gap in scores between U.S. millennials with the highest level of parental education attainment and those with the lowest was one of the largest of the 22 participating nations, according to the report.

Briana West, campus campaign coordinator for the Rutgers branch of Teach for America, said it is up to millennials to standardize education in the U.S. and return the nation’s academic standing to its former competitive status.

“The job of millennials is to increase those numbers, so the members of the next generation are able to reach those goals (of increasing competitiveness),” said West, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “This is a problem that needs to be fixed on an institutional level. Race and different (educational) environments are still huge factors.”

The study found the U.S to have the highest inequality in the distribution of its numeracy skills and “very low” rankings at both ends of the distribution, meaning even high-scoring U.S. millennials lack competitiveness when placed next to their international counterparts.

In fact, U.S. millennials placed in the 90th percentile for the nation scored lower than top-scoring millennials in 15 of the 22 participating countries, only surpassing Spain in performance.

Analysis by ETS suggests that the results of the PIAAC should be considered in conjunction with the broader social, economic, technological and political forces working together to shape society. Overall, PIAAC data indicates that more education does not necessarily ensure a more successful or skillful population.

"We need to be able to bring a general passion to the movement and push back to try to help change the world through education," West continued. "... There is an imbalance in the level education that people are able to access. It is definitely beyond newer generations being 'lazy.'"

Higher education, which has seen a greater percentage of young people enrolling and attaining degrees, appears to have done little to raise America's performance numbers.

Millennial test-takers with a four-year degree only surpassed two countries, Poland and Spain, in numeracy. America's best-educated millennials, or those with a master's or research degree, only scored higher than those in Ireland, Poland and Spain.

Despite the nation’s standing in relation to the other nations, Rutgers—New Brunswick is becoming increasingly competitive, according to a February 2014 article by The Daily Targum.

The rise in admission exclusiveness is due in part to the 15-to-20-point increase in average applicant SAT scores.

Courtney McAnuff, vice president for Enrollment Management at Rutgers, said last February that the University would accept 300 fewer students for the Class of 2018 than in the year prior.

Mary Ellen Cagnassola

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