US embraces 'new reality' of lifelong learning

Study finds that Generation X is the keenest yet on education

Darren Evans

Young adults in the US are more likely to be involved in lifelong learning than ever before, with more than one in 10 currently enrolled on courses to expand their education, according to a university study.

The so-called Generation X of people born between the 1960s and the 1980s are the first Americans to experience the "new reality" of work combined with continuing education, according to Jon Miller of the University of Michigan.

Dr Miller, a political scientist who compiles the quarterly Generation X Report, said that today's young adults have spent more time in education than their parents, and that cycles of work and education have become the norm.

The latest of the reports, published this month, looks at the educational achievements of participants in the Longitudinal Study of American Youth who are at the centre of the Generation X age range and left school 20 years ago.

Dr Miller said that these Generation X-ers have been "vigorous consumers" of formal education, with more than 40 per cent earning an undergraduate or higher degree. And despite approaching their 40th birthday, about 11 per cent of them are enrolled on courses or in schooling, and almost half are in some form of in-service training.

"This is an impressive level of engagement in lifelong learning and reflects the changing realities of a global economy driven by science and technology," Dr Miller said. "Over the past 50 years, the number of individuals seeking advanced education or training... has increased, but the experiences of the young adults in Generation X demonstrate that the process of lifelong learning now reaches a larger proportion of this generation than any previous (one) and continues as the older wave of young adults reach 40."

Generation X-ers are also using the opportunities of the "electronic era" to learn about issues of professional interest. "It is impossible to imagine the information landscape that these young adults will encounter in another 20 years, but their ability to recognise, adapt to and utilise the new resources of the electronic era (is) impressive," Dr Miller said.

Evidence of this positive trend in the US has emerged a month after figures showed that falling numbers of adults were accessing education across Europe. The European Union has a target of 15 per cent of adults in education by 2020 but, as previously reported by TES, that proportion fell from 9.5 per cent in 2006 to 8.9 per cent in 2011.

The Longitudinal Study of American Youth is the longest and most comprehensive longitudinal study of a national sample of public school students ever conducted in the US. Started by the National Science Foundation in 1986, it began collecting data from a sample of approximately 5,900 7th grade (aged 12-13) and 10th grade (aged 15-16) students in 50 school systems in the autumn of 1987.

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Darren Evans

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