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Reading New ETS Report on Millennials Not Likely to Cheer You Up

A few weeks ago I raised the question: Should I get my hopes up about Colorado course choice again? Today, it seems more appropriate to ask whether I should get my hopes up at all.

Yeah, you might think that sounds kind of depressing. But dare I say you haven’t yet had the chance to drink deep the dose of melancholy that flows through Robert Pondiscio’s new Flypaper post “America’s Millennials: Overeducated and Underprepared.” To his credit, he tries to soften the blow with some lighthearted old sports announcer allusion, but the damage cannot be escaped.

What’s the big downer? Pondiscio points readers like you and me to a new Educational Testing Service (ETS) report America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future. The bottom line? While American Millennials are on track to reach the highest level of educational attainment EVER, they are less literate and numerate than both prior U.S. generations and to their international peers. There are also apparent implications about growing inequality in skills between the privileged and the less privileged.

Yikes! I feel Pondiscio’s pain. Even though trailing behind the Millennials in vaguely defined Generation Z, my fellow kids and I will reap some of the consequences. So yes, I do care.

Being the smaller person that I am, however, I could only handle the pain in smaller doses. Hence, rather than poring through the full report (which you’re welcome to do), I acquired enough aches and discomfort just by perusing the 2-page executive summary.

Little me could wallow around in the despond for quite awhile, but will offer just a couple of observations instead. First, anyone who wants to pretend this is just a symptom of poverty or undereducated parents, they are missing the point:

Among all countries, there was a strong relationship between parental levels of educational attainment and skills; across all levels of parental educational attainment, there was no country where millennials scored lower than those in the United States.

According to ETS, young Americans with highly educated parents rank at the bottom of the heap. This finding is even more distressing than what Harvard’s PEPG uncovered last year in Not Just the Problems of Other People’s Children — which included a troubling performance gap for Colorado.

There’s also a bigger picture issue that this report raises. What is all the emphasis on four-year college and university really gaining for us? Maybe even less than we previously hoped or believed.

No silver bullets exist to solve the problem, to be sure. But one has to wonder if there is something worthwhile to be said about smarter, less rigid, student-centered approaches to Career and Technical Education (CTE)? A thoughtful approach to making the educational process relevant to more students could reap real dividends, maybe even improving more Millennials’ skills and helping make our nation stronger and more competitive.

As if on cue, Chalkbeat Colorado reports the passage of House Bill 1170 through its first key hurdle. On the surface, at least, the idea of broadening the indicators of what constitutes “postsecondary and workforce readiness” would appear to be a helpful piece of the process.

But it’s just the beginning. Or at least time to come full circle, and give more consideration to the idea of Course Choice as one small way to increase those opportunities, enhance those skills, and just maybe give me something to smile about again.