Gen Z was set to unseat millennials as the most educated generation, but the pandemic may have ended that

Gen Z was set to unseat millennials as the most educated generation, but the pandemic may have ended that
The pandemic has delayed Gen Z's educational progress.KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/Getty Images
  • Gen Z was on track to becoming the most educated generation ever, but the pandemic has knocked that off course, according to a Bank of America Research report.
  • The shift to at-home learning has put younger Gen Zers at risk of learning loss and, thus, delayed educational progress.
  • The number of older Gen Zers enrolling in college is also on the decline, per the report, because they fear taking on student debt.

Gen Z was set to unseat millennials as the most educated generation ever, but that's no sure thing after 2020.

The pandemic has delayed — and set back — Gen Z's educational progress, according to a new Bank of America Research report. It's intensified the troubling pre-pandemic trend of learning stagnating for American children at all levels.

At this point during the pandemic, the report said, half of lower secondary school graduates will now lack minimum levels of proficiency, compared to the typical 40%.

This shift to at-home learning will have a long-lasting impact on the educational landscape, Charles Thornburgh, a veteran education technology CEO, previously told Business Insider: "We'll have reverberations with this generation that we won't even begin to understand for a few years."

As the coronavirus first emerged in hot spots around the US in the spring, 55 million kids were sent home to prevent infection spread via classroom, Insider's Hilary Brueck reported.


All students run the risk of lagging behind academically since much of their curriculum tends to be stacked on top of what they had learned previously, Thornburgh said. He added that the massive disruption of canceled testing in the spring semester, coupled with summer vacation, would result in lost academics. Worse, he said, is that most skill assessments don't happen until the spring, so students may not know for months just how academically far behind they are.

This learning loss, Thornburgh said, can have long-term effects when it comes to getting into college.

Gen Z also doesn't want to take on student debt

But older Gen Zers aren't even planning to attend college.

The number of high school graduates enrolling in college is already declining, the report said, attributing this to Gen Z questioning whether student debt is worth the benefits of a degree. The report cited this trend as yet another trend setting back Gen Z's trajectory toward becoming the most educated generation.

The average student debt among the Class of 2019 nears $30,000 for those who took out loans. The rising cost of tuition has made the "advantage of a degree today is less than it was 10 years ago," Richard Vedder, an author and distinguished professor emeritus of economics at Ohio University, previously told Business Insider. "The return on investment has fallen."


Again, the pandemic hasn't helped matters. Some Gen Zers are preferring to take a gap year while waiting for a full college experience: They don't want to pay for Zoom classes or experience deserted campus life.

Only time will tell just how long it will take Gen Z to regain their lost educational ground — or if it ever does.