When college students were tested on different levels of literacy and mathematics in a fairly recent study, the results were startling. Over 50% of students attending a four year program and over 75% attending two year programs were not able to complete complex literacy tasks, such as summarizing the results of surveys on parental involvement in schools, as well as being unable to compare credit cards that had different interest rates and annual fees. As well, over 50% of the students who were close to graduation lacked the necessary skills to complete tasks such as understanding an editorial article in a newspaper.
The main areas of this particular study included analyzing stories in the news and other writings, comprehending documents and utilizing the math skills necessary for checkbooks and even restaurant tips. One of the researchers may have understated the feeling of most when he said that it was a “little disturbing” that at this level of higher education students could not perform basic tasks.
Most students attending four year universities and community college programs were able to show some intermediate skills, meaning they were able to perform moderately challenging tasks. Some of the tasks performed by the students included consulting some type of reference guide in order to see what foods contained certain vitamins, finding locations on a map and calculating the cost of ordering office supplies.
There is a brighter side; the overall average literacy level of university students is actually higher than the average level of adult literacy nationwide. However, even though it sounds encouraging, experts claim it is not exactly surprising given the fact that the group of adults tested included those who had significantly less education.
Upon comparison with like levels of education in other adults, college students showed above average skills for searching and using information that they gathered from documents and texts, and the students performed worst on any problems that involved math. Almost 20% of the students who were working towards a four year degree had only the most basic of quantitative skills. Also, over 30% of those attending two year programs had only the most basic of mathematical skills.