Thus far, Millennials are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. Although we are still behind Generation X in the number of college graduates (19 percent of Millennials have a college degree compared to 35 percent of Gen X), according to a February, 2010 Pew Research Center survey, 40 percent of Millennials are still in school, and of those who are of college age but not in school, 30 percent say they plan to go back at some point to get their degree. Furthermore, 90 percent of today’s high school students say they plan to pursue some sort of education after high school.
Interestingly enough, the Millennial ladies are outperforming the Millennial gentlemen in the classroom. Overall, Millennial girls tend to outperform boys in elementary and secondary school, getting higher grades, pursuing tougher academic programs, and participating in advanced placement classes at higher rates. Furthermore, girls also outnumber boys in student government, in honor societies, on school newspapers and in debate clubs. Additionally, 57 percent of today’s undergraduates are women, and women are now earning 170,000 more bachelor’s degrees each year than men. Even more impressive, while in 1970 fewer than 10 percent of medical students and 4 percent of law students were women, today women represent roughly half of the nation’s law and medical students and 55 percent of the nation’s professionals overall.
Something else that may come as a surprise to some is that Millennials are getting higher marks in Advanced Placement testing, SAT test scores, and math and science. According to the College Board, when comparing the results of AP exams from the year 1995 and 2009, the number of students who placed as qualified (grade 3), well qualified (grade 4), or very well qualified (grade 5) was significantly higher in 2009 than in 1995 for all grade levels, and the number of high school students who take and pass an AP exam has more than doubled in the past ten years. Even more impressive, in 1985 only 4 percent of students took at least one AP exam; in 2008, 30 percent did. Also, between 1985 and 2008, for all young adults age 18-to-24 the number of high school dropouts decreased from 14 to 9 percent, the number of students who took the SAT exam rose from 25 to 41 percent and the average SAT score increased from 999 to 1,022 (the average score on the SAT and ACT exams is the highest in 30 years). Furthermore, between 1982 and 2004, for all graduating high school students the number who completed Algebra II increased from 40 to 68 percent, who completed biology and chemistry increased from 29 to 61 percent, who completed 3 or more years of a foreign language increased from 9 to 19 percent, who completed Calculus increased from 5 to 13 percent, and those who completed engineering rose from 1 to 9 percent. Overall, eight in ten Millennials say it is “cool to be smart” and three in ten say “knowledge” is what makes someone successful.
But even though Millennials feel that education is very important, the high price tag of a college degree is keeping more and more young people from obtaining that coveted piece of paper. About 50 percent of young adults in college today will drop out at some point. And although it is true that part of the reason for this is because some students just aren’t “college ready” and are forced to take remedial courses which oftentimes make them want to give up more than try harder, the larger reason is because of the outrageous price tag attached to a college degree. According to a 2009 Public Agenda survey, the majority of adults aged 22 to 30 who had quit college reportedly did so mainly for the following reasons: they couldn’t afford it, they had to work full time, their parents couldn’t help out, they felt “left on their own,” or they had other family commitments. Far fewer said it was because the coursework was too difficult or because college wasn’t worth the effort. These results are backed up by the February, 2010 Pew Research Center survey that reported that 36 percent of Millennials said their biggest reason for not completing college is because they couldn’t afford it, followed closely by 35 percent who said they don’t have the time (presumably because they had to work).
Without a doubt, educational achievement and getting a college education is very important for Millennials. The majority of us think that education is a big factor to achieving success in life and we are willing to put ourselves into mountains of debt in order to get that increasingly expensive piece of paper. And more than likely, by the time all is said and done, Millennials will be the most-educated generation ever.