According to a recent study published by the American Institute for Research (AIR), nearly one-fifth of the nation’s college students have deficient literacy skills.
The AIR study tested 1,827 students from across the country in two and four-year public and private colleges and universities, AIR spokesman Larry McQuillan said. The study, funded by the nonprofit organization Pew Charitable Trusts, found that 20 percent of U.S. college students completing four-year degrees and 30 percent of students completing two-year degrees have only basic or below average quantitative literacy skills.
McQuillan said he thinks the report can help each university assess the way it educates its students.
“The intent of the study is to provide college and university administration with information that might be of value to them,” McQuillan said. “In the report we don’t make any recommendations at all. We are assessing the information.”
The study tested three types of skills: analysis of prose, document literacy and quantitative literacy. McQuillan said the results were categorized as below basic, basic, intermediate and proficient, based on the abilities of those studied. Participants were tested on their ability to comprehend job applications and food or prescription drug labels, balance a checkbook, calculate tips and understand newspaper articles.
Despite the number of students with inadequate literacy skills, McQuillan said the literacy of students in universities is significantly higher than the average literacy of adults in the nation.
McQuillan said the response from universities has been overwhelming since the release of the study and he has received calls everyday from professors across the country.
“We’ve gotten enormous response to this study,” McQuillan said. “I had a phone call from a professor from the University of Kansas who wanted to incorporate some [of the results] into his humanities class.”
UCSB Career Services Employment Services Coordinator Don Lubach said he found the study’s results surprising.
“I find it hard to believe,” Lubach said. “It doesn’t match my experience with UCSB students.”
Lubach said university classes often focus heavily on theory and, in doing so, do not prepare students for the life after college. He said students should participate in internships and part-time jobs, or take classes through the UCSB Minor in Professional Writing, to develop more basic, vocational skills.
“It really adds weight and merit to the theory here,” Lubach said.
Fourth-year film studies major Sydney Duncan said he does not think it is the university’s job to teach students simple tasks.
“I don’t think they’re preparing us [for the real world], but I don’t feel like it’s their responsibility to,” Duncan said. “You should know those things out of high school.”
Anthony Scopatz, a fourth-year physics major, said he thinks lecture time could be wasted if it focused on remedial skill instruction.
“It’s not like your professors should give you a presentation about how to give a tip,” Scopatz said.