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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Survey finds that half of you won’t understand this column

    The spring semester brings about many thoughts for graduating seniors. They question what to do after school, how they can use their degrees and how they are going to survive in the “”real world.”” Seniors who have been under the financial and emotional support of their parents are even more worried when they realize they have to start paying car insurance, rent and even medical expenses.

    Unfortunately, they should be even more scared than they are: Only half of the college seniors graduating will have the necessary degree of literacy to understand complex texts, like contracts and credit card applications, a vital skill in the “”real world.””

    According to a study by the American Institute of Research, 50 percent of 4-year college graduates lack the level of literacy necessary to complete complex tasks like analyzing an editorial argument or understanding a credit card application with different interest rates.

    These analytical skills should have been acquired much earlier in life, at the high school level at the latest, but that has not happened. Colleges are now bearing the burden of dealing with students who lack the skill to read, interpret and analyze information. The institutions have settled on the mediocrity of “”read and regurgitate”” learning. High schools and universities mostly test the ability to absorb information, like dates or names, and then repeat it on a multiple-choice test.

    The AIR study showed students whose coursework was focused on applying concepts to practical problems had significantly higher literacy rates. The ability to turn data into information into knowledge is a skill that will benefit society, unlike mass memorization.

    Instead of the fact that Watergate took place in 1972, the focus should be how Watergate changed the political landscape permanently. Instead of a professor lecturing on the names of fault lines and subduction zones, students should be applying that information to analyze how it affected the tsunami in Asia. Universities are in general only giving students the building blocks, and then making them fend for themselves.

    It’s not really the universities’ fault; they are handed students without necessary skills. But it is now their responsibility. Whether in the form of increasing the amount of writing-emphasis courses, providing more active debate in classes or creating more analytical paper requirements across all majors, the university has an obligation to provide its graduates with the tools to succeed.

    The literacy study stated that 20 percent of graduating seniors only have basic quantitative literacy, which means they have trouble with basic tasks such as calculating the price of food at a restaurant or comparing ticket prices. Universities are graduating people who would have trouble figuring out if flying home on Southwest or Delta is cheaper.

    No university graduate should be worried he doesn’t have the skills to be a productive member of society. That is what the advantage of a college education is supposed to be – moving beyond simple tasks and functioning on an advanced level.

    Much like high schools and elementary schools have the AIMS test, every university should institute a mid-career skills assessment. A standard test should be implemented for all disciplines that assesses reading level and practical math abilities. By placing it in the middle of degree acquisition, students would still have time to attend workshops if they fail to meet literacy standards. In providing such tests, colleges take both the responsibility and the credit for providing these critical skills.

    By placing people into the workforce with advanced problem-solving tools, universities will create a stronger generation, one that will appreciate the cultivated over the mundane.

    Mike Morefield is a political science senior. He can be reached at aletters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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