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Opportunity in America

The ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education produces high-quality, evidence-based research that explores critical issues impacting opportunity in America today.

Our researchers leverage ETS's work on national and international large-scale assessments to explore the acquisition, outcomes and inequalities of human and social capital across a range of topics including pre-K–12 education, teacher quality, higher education, workforce readiness and noncognitive skills.

Latest Reports

Too Big to Fail: Millennials on the Margins

Too Big to Fail: Millennials on the Margins (2018)

This important new paper expands traditional understandings of "disconnected youth" — young adults who are not attached to educational institutions or the labor market — by including cognitive skills in the conception of what it means to be "disconnected." The authors demonstrate that in addition to those millennials who are out of work or not in education, large segments of the employed and those in education with low skills are marginalized. Also explored are critical aspects of inequality and the implications for the United States when large segments of those transitioning to adulthood lack the opportunity to thrive.

Understanding the Basic Reading Skills of U.S. Adults

Understanding the Basic Reading Skills of U.S. Adults: Reading Components in the PIAAC Literacy Survey (2015)

This report looks at recent research on the troubling portrait of the literacy skills of U.S. adults and argues that, as a country, we must develop a comprehensive and sustained effort to improve in this area if we are to protect and enhance our communities, our economy and our democracy. The ability to read fluently and for understanding — to be able to learn from text — is perhaps the most important foundational skill for U.S. adult citizens’ health, well-being, and social and economic advancement. It is not only an essential skill when competing for jobs in the 21st century workforce but a gateway to lifelong learning, education and training.

America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future

America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future (2015)

The authors of this report argue that there is an apparent paradox for U.S. millennials: While they may be on track to be our most educated generation ever, they consistently score below many of their international peers in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments. Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills when compared to results from previous years of U.S. adult surveys. This report sheds light on the growing inequality of opportunity in the United States and the impact on skills acquisition and outcomes for both current and future generations.

A Story of Opportunity in America

Opportunity has always been intangible, but for increasing numbers of Americans, it’s becoming invisible. In 2014, ETS launched a two-year exploration to shed light on the rising inequality of opportunity that is leaving many Americans behind. The result of this effort includes a report that takes a broad view of the challenges we face, a book containing research from leaders from a range of fields related to opportunity and a short film highlighting stories about opportunity from across our nation. Together, these inform the work of the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education.

Choosing Our Future: A Story of Opportunity in America

Choosing Our Future: A Story of Opportunity in America (2016)

This comprehensive report examines the magnitude of the crisis of opportunity in America and its long-term implications. Interactions among powerful global economic forces, government policies and business practices have generated a self-sustaining set of dynamics that have led to increasing economic, social and political polarization, with the accumulation of advantage or disadvantage experienced by one generation passed along to the next. Choosing Our Future argues that ignoring these forces will lead to growing disparities among our citizens and place an unsustainable strain on the nation’s social fabric and the character of our democracy.

The Dynamics of Opportunity in America

The Dynamics of Opportunity in America (2016)

Written by leaders from a range of fields — including education, economics, demography and political science — this book illuminates key aspects of the problem of inequality of opportunity and provides a range of recommendations to reverse harmful trends. Across the country, our children are beginning life from very different starting points. Some have aspirations and believe they can be achieved. For too many others, aspirations are tempered, if not dashed, by the sobering realities of everyday life. These different starting points place children on distinctly different trajectories of growth and development, ultimately leading to vastly different adult outcomes. Written in an engaging style, this volume constitutes an essential foundation for informed discussion and strategic analysis.

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