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Study: Most College Students Lack Skills
By BEN FELLER, AP Education WriterFri Jan 20, 1:56 AM ET


More than half of students at four-year colleges — and at least 75 percent at two-year colleges — lack the literacy to handle complex, real-life tasks such as understanding credit card offers, a study found.
The literacy study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the first to target the skills of graduating students, finds that students fail to lock in key skills — no matter their field of study.
The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.
Without "proficient" skills, or those needed to perform more complex tasks, students fall behind. They cannot interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.
"It is kind of disturbing that a lot of folks are graduating with a degree and they're not going to be able to do those things," said Stephane Baldi, the study's director at the American Institutes for Research, a behavioral and social science research organization.
Most students at community colleges and four-year schools showed intermediate skills. That means they can do moderately challenging tasks, such as identifying a location on a map.
There was brighter news.
Overall, the average literacy of college students is significantly higher than that of adults across the nation. Study leaders said that was encouraging but not surprising, given that the spectrum of adults includes those with much less education.
Also, compared with all adults with similar levels of education, college students had superior skills in searching and using information from texts and documents.
"But do they do well enough for a highly educated population? For a knowledge-based economy? The answer is no," said Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent and nonpartisan group.
"This sends a message that we should be monitoring this as a nation, and we don't do it," Finney said. "States have no idea about the knowledge and skills of their college graduates."
The survey examined college students nearing the end of their degree programs.
The students did the worst on matters involving math, according to the study.
Almost 20 percent of students pursuing four-year degrees had only basic quantitative skills. For example, the students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the service station. About 30 percent of two-year students had only basic math skills.
Interesting... though hardly surprising given my experience with my classmates and in my job.
 

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I'll admit that my math skills aren't the best, but I do have basic quantitative skills. I can balance my checking account, tell how much gas I have left, how much $$ to leave as a tip (I went out with a group once and one girl couldn't even figure out what she needed to put into her phone calculator to determine 30% tip...yikes!!)

My peers scare me! In fact my brother can't balance his checking account or guesstimate how much gas he may have left (he's getting better at that one though)...he can calculate tips, but I'm pretty sure that's only because he's a server haha
 

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Definitely not surprising. People have to put in some effort to learn these things on their own which does not happen. Personal life skills can not be taught entirely in a class room.

My bf is renting out a couple of his rooms at his house to summer interns that work at his office. These boys are 19-20 years old. The things myself and my bf have had to teach them are amazing. They could not take care of basic things like loading a dishwasher! I had to have a "how to load a dishwasher" session with them. Even had a "how to cook Mac and Cheese out of a box" I am not exaggarating! Apparently, they've never had to do load a dishwasher or mow a lawn or do any of the usual chores I had to do growing up. I now thank my parents every day for making my life "miserable" by making me do chores when I was growing up and living under their roof.

I don't even want to know how they handle money because they certainly have no concept of how much things cost...caught one of them with the windows wide open while the AC was on in the house. It was 90 degrees outside and 72 in the house.
 

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When it comes to personal finance it is often an attitude problem and personal control. One of my staff is responsible to technical. schedule, and budget for a project valued and about $3 million per year. He is fantastic at managing this and always stays within budget. BUT his personal finances are a disaster. He can't or won't balance his checkbook. His credit cards are at their limit and he has difficulty remembering to pay on time. Its just a matter of priority, its not that he is not capable.
 

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It would be interesting to find if students who attended liberal arts colleges with broad curricula preformed any differently than those who attended school with narrower, track-based curricula.

Where I went to school we had to take a number of "divisional" requirements in each section of the university. I think it's extremely important to expand our knowledge in all areas while we're shelling out thousands of dollars a year, not just our chosen field.

An example of classes I took as a Biology Major and Journalism Minor:
Intro to the New Testament
Luxury Art in the Middle Ages
French Literature (taught in French - it's required for all students to take foreign language classes up to the level of a lit class taught in that language)
Literature of the American South (an "analytical writing" course)
Intro to Philosophy
Into to Psychology
Third World Women in Politics
General Economics

The idea of a broad college education appealed to me, and I think it might solve some of the problems in the article. If people want to further specialize in their chosen fields they go on to pursue higher degrees.

Yes, all life skills can't be taught in a class, but I think a college charging any amount of money should properly prepare its students for life beyond the walls of academia. So I wouldn't so much put this as a failing of the students, but of the colleges who are churning out graduates with a range of skills that appear mediocre at best.

ETA: Interesting article Lindsay, thanks for sharing! :)
 
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