While graduating seniors have spent at least four years proving their intelligence, a recent study found they might not be as prepared for the real world as they think.
The National Survey of America's College Students, a literacy study conducted by Pew Charitable Trusts, found college graduates are lacking three types of skills: the ability to read and understand prose, like newspapers; understanding documents, like job applications and maps; and basic math, like balancing a check book or adding up a tip.
According to the study, students had the hardest time with math problems, like comparing prices. Only 20 percent of students surveyed had basic literacy in this category.
"(The study) wasn't shocking," said Matt Gianneschi , chief academic officer for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE). "We don't have any plans to respond to that report specifically."
Gianneschi said CCHE has been working on improving higher education and making it more uniform across the state's universities.
"We don't see this as only a higher education problem," Gianneschi said, noting that graduating high school seniors have a remediation rate of about 30 percent. He said he cannot be sure if this rate is related to students' literacy.
While Gianneschi said this study is concerning, the CCHE does not have any direct control on curriculums at universities. They only provide foundations for curriculums to ensure there is a similarity between classes at different universities.
Gianneschi also said more rigorous admission requirements have helped ensure students are prepared for college.
Alan Lamborn, vice provost for undergraduate affairs at CSU, also said there is ongoing work to improve higher education and adapt to the learning styles of each generation. He said people generally do not remember facts, stating that even students who do well in their classes only remember about 20 to 30 percent of the facts presented to them.
"This leads me to be cautious about how much weight to give this study," Lamborn said.
Thomas Bond, a junior wildlife biology major, agreed stating while he has learned a lot in college, he doesn't always remember everything from his classes.
However, Lamborn said this study does say something about how students are learning. Changes in technology don't promote the same kind of learning structure, he said.
"You can jump in and out of material very easily."
Because of this, the material can lose its logical structure, which could take away from its intended meaning.
As a result of this new way of learning, Lamborn said more emphasis is being placed on hands-on activities and active learning, as well as an attempt to get more technology in classrooms.
Nationally, people are looking at ways to improve higher education as well.
The Commission on the Future of Higher Education, appointed by the Department of Education's Secretary Margaret Spellings in September, has until August to find some answers regarding higher education issues, particularly how to make college more affordable and be assured that students are prepared once they graduate.
One recent suggestion is to extend standardized tests to higher education. Lamborn is opposed to this idea.
"I think it's a really bad idea," he said. Lamborn restated that the goal of higher education is to teach higher order learning, or analysis and evaluation of key questions and issues. "I think standardized tests evaluate that capacity miserably."
However, not everyone dislikes the idea. Bond said he understands why the commission would suggest standardized tests, but feels students probably would be upset at having to take them.
"If you have a high GPA and credits I'd probably be mad, but if you're borderline I could probably understand it," he said.
Lamborn said this suggestion would push universities to focus on what he thinks is least important.
"It is an example of the way politics can intrude on education in very destructive way."
Sara Crocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org