Morton Marcus is right to question postsecondary completion rates as the litmus test for evidence of learning (in the March
29 issue). While most college graduates today couldn’t tell you why it is called a bachelor’s degree, they do
know it’s a credential that earns on average 30-percent more than a high school diploma. In our rush toward quantity
in the production of college degrees, we do seem to be sacrificing quality.
The Pew Charitable Trusts funded a study a few years ago that revealed some disturbing trends (www.air.org/news/documents/Release200601pew.htm). Sampling nearly 2,000 college graduates randomly selected across 80 public and private colleges and universities, the study found that more than 75 percent of students at two-year colleges and over 50 percent of students at four-year colleges were not proficient in basic literacy, meaning they lacked the skills to perform such tasks as “comparing credit card offers with different interest rates or summarizing the arguments of newspaper editorials.”
Moreover, only 30 percent of students in two-year institutions and nearly 20 percent of students in four-year institutions possessed the basic math skills needed to compare prices or calculate costs from a menu.
This ought to scare even the most optimistic dean of students when passing out the vellum at commencement. And, in case you were wondering, the word bachelor comes to us from the Old French and Middle Latin, baccalarius, meaning tenant farmer, squire or advanced student. Thus the bachelor’s degree was only a step on the way to becoming a fully qualified master. Give me a bricklayer who can set a plumb line.
Thomas A. Orr