Parent Resource

Report: U.S. Millennials Getting Schooled in Skills

The U.S. should emphasize gaining skills and not just educational attainment, a new report says.

by Allie Bidwell, Education reporter for U.S. News & World Report

Educational attainment among U.S. millennials has been on the rise. More students than ever are graduating from high school, and the percentage of young people with a college education has been inching up over the last few years. But those on track to make up almost half of the workforce might not have the necessary skills to compete internationally, according to a new report.

Educational Testing Service, a private, nonprofit testing organization, analyzed the results of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIACC), which is administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. The PIACC is a household study of samples of people ages 16 to 65 in more than 20 countries. In its report, Educational Testing Service focused solely on the 2012 data for millennials – the most recently available PIACC information – which the company defines as those born after 1980. On measures of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in a technology-rich environment, U.S. millennials scored at or toward the bottom.

[READ: College Grads Question the Return on Investment of Today’s Degrees]

“We wanted to focus on millennials because this is the group that will be in the workforce for the next, potentially, 40 years,” says Madeline Goodman, a co-author of the report. “They represent the decision-makers and the parents and the citizens of the future.”


In literacy, U.S. millennials scored lower than their peers in 15 of 22 countries; in numeracy, they ranked last, along with those in Italy and Spain; and in problem-solving, U.S. millennials tied for last with those in the Slovak Republic, Ireland and Poland.

The data also suggested there has been a trend of declining skills among U.S. adults: The percentage of millennials scoring below the minimum standard (Level 3) in numeracy has increased across all levels of educational attainment since 2003. And although all measures are important, numeracy (how adults use mathematical concepts in everyday tasks) is tied to labor force outcomes more strongly than literacy and problem-solving, says Anita Sands, a co-author of the report.  READ MORE