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Where have the real world math skills gone?

By Murray Bourne, 31 Jan 2006

A study by the American Institutes for Research has some scathing things to say about the state of literacy - readin’, writin’ and ’rithmetic - of US graduating college seniors.

Concerning mathematics literacy, the study says:

Students in 2- and 4-year colleges have the greatest difficulty with quantitative literacy: approximately 30 percent of students in 2-year institutions and nearly 20 percent of students in 4-year institutions have only Basic quantitative literacy. Basic skills are those necessary to compare ticket prices or calculate the cost of a sandwich and a salad from a menu.

In other words, they can add the bill, but cannot calculate the tip.

There is something very wrong when a 20-something college graduate cannot even compare credit card deals, cannot do comparison shopping ("the 100 g bottle costs $2.40 while the 150 g bottle costs $3.10"), cannot mix solutions in proportion and cannot calculate fuel consumption of a car.

Where does solving a quadratic formula or finding the roots of a 6th degree polynomial fit into this scene...?

The study:

The National Survey of America’s College Students, (NSACS) is based on a sample of 1,827 graduating students from 80 randomly selected 2-year and 4-year public and private colleges and universities across the United States.

The results can be found at: New Study of the Literacy of College Students Finds Some Are Graduating With Only Basic Skills [PDF]

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HTML: You can use simple tags like <b>, <a href="...">, etc.

To enter math, you can can either:

  1. Use simple calculator-like input in the following format (surround your math in backticks, or qq on tablet or phone):
    `a^2 = sqrt(b^2 + c^2)`
    (See more on ASCIIMath syntax); or
  2. Use simple LaTeX in the following format. Surround your math with \( and \).
    \( \int g dx = \sqrt{\frac{a}{b}} \)
    (This is standard simple LaTeX.)

NOTE: You can mix both types of math entry in your comment.


Tips, tricks, lessons, and tutoring to help reduce test anxiety and move to the top of the class.