Earlier this year, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) assessed the literacy of 1,800 graduating seniors from 80 randomly selected two- and four-year colleges and universities. What they found was not pretty.
20 percent of U.S. college students completing four-year degrees have only basic quantitative literacy skills. That means they are unable to estimate if their car has enough gas to get to the next gas station or to calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies.
The study also finds that more than 50 percent of students at four-year colleges have only the most basic literacy skills, meaning they can't do basic tasks like summarize the arguments in a newspaper editorial. On both measures, students at two-year colleges perform even worse.
The implications of this report are profound. Universities nationwide have been increasing taxpayer subsidies, tuition and fees for decades without anyone seriously questioning their return on investment.
Universities make outlandish claims about spurring economic development and leading the way to a new knowledge economy. Somehow in the process, they stopped teaching their students how to read.
A serious reappraisal of higher education policy is long overdue, both in Arizona and nationwide.
Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
-American Institutes for Research: New Study of the Literacy of College Students Finds Some Are Graduating With Only Basic Skills
-Goldwater Institute: "Does Spending on Higher Education Drive Economic Growth? 20 Years of Evidence Reviewed"
-Washington Monthly: "Is Our Students Learning?"