We haven’t had a good study to go through in a while so let’s tackle this one. According to a new report, fifteen year old students in the US are about average in their skills compared to the rest of the world. However, they are far above average when it comes to their expectations for the future.

When compared with 27 other industrialized countries, American students are in the middle of the pack in their abilities to read and do high school-level math. They are also just about average in "school engagement", how much they participate in their classes and their "sense of belonging".

But when asked what kind of job they expect to hold by the time they’re 30, 80.5% of U.S. students said they’d have a "white-collar, high-skilled" job, far exceeding the average of 62.2%. U.S. girls had even higher expectations of themselves, with 85.8% expecting a top job by age 30. Among all nations, only students in Mexico had higher expectations.

So, how do you interpret findings like this? Since the full study doesn’t appear to be online, there’s no easy way of knowing how it was conducted or what kinds of questions they asked. But I don’t find the results particularly surprising. We have always been good at boosting the expectations of students, at least in middle and upper class suburban neighborhoods. I’m not quite sure I agree with this assessment of the study, however.

"If you look at the success of the U.S. economy over three decades," says Dickens, who is an economist [at the Brookings Institution], "it looks like our higher education system must be doing a pretty darned good job."

Possibly, but averages are deceving. When you take the dot com artificial boom and very real bust, combined with some spectacular corporate fraud (Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, etc.) and corporations outsourcing jobs overseas, I’m not sure the colleges are doing a "pretty darned good job" with topics like ethics, corporate responsibility, and long term planning.

Side note: as always, you must take into consideration who is behind any study. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which produced this report, is "Paris-based". So this is obviously a flawed piece of work since all things French must be bad. Just ask Bill O’Reilly who, of course, is never wrong. :-)