The Literacy Problem in the US and College Debt

“Jesus said that the logical end of effective teaching is that the pupil becomes like his teacher.”
[Lk 6:40]:[1]

Higher education has received extensive criticism over not preparing students for the marketplace, or failing them and not delivering a degree; in both cases, the student has taken on enormous debt with no way to pay it off.  While there are many causes and contributing factors for this issue, one factor that has received little attention is the growing literacy problem in the United States.

Recent studies show that approximately 1 in 7 Americans are functionally illiterate, unable to read a newspaper or a prescription label.[2]  In 2013, only 38% of 8th grade students were reading at or above grade level.[3]  Based on results from the ACT[4] college admissions test, 53% of students seeking college admission were considered unprepared for college.

As one of the largest adult educational providers in the mid-west, the DeVoe School of Business at Indiana Wesleyan University conducted research into the literacy skills of students coming into its 2000 student Associate of Science in Business Programs; the results were disturbing.  Approximately 60% of the students were reading at or below a ninth grade reading level, 30 % were at or below a sixth grade reading level.  Less than 10% of the incoming class were reading at the 12th grade level typical for college textbooks.  As might be expected, the research also showed a significant negative correlation between reading ability and drop out/attrition rates.  As reading levels dropped, failure rates and attrition levels increased.[5]

Higher education has long recognized the need for remediation in basic reading, writing, and arithmetic.   Unfortunately, financial aid regulations state that remediation courses are not eligible for aid; consequently, most students skip the remediation and plunge right into their course work, often failing to complete the program.

While there are many causes of student failure in college, this is one that has a simple fix: modify financial aid regulations to allow students to take the remediation courses they need to be successful.  Businesses can help resolve this issue by using their influence in Washington to make a change that will not only better serve students, but reduce the number of student loan defaults.

Are you interested in helping to resolve this issue through personal influence?  If so, consider placing a call to your senators or representative through the Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121, or through the direct access phone number or mailing address for Senators or direct access number to House members.

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (n.d.). What does the Bible say about teaching? Retrieved July 7, 2016, from

[2] Children of the code. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[3] National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). The condition of education: Reading performance. Retrieved from

[4] “The ACT® is the leading US college admissions test, measuring what you learn in high school to determine your academic readiness for college” (“The Act,” n.d., para. 1).  The ACT test for students. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2016, from

[5] Hall, H., Sporleder, R. & Boyce, J. (2016). Reading and adult higher education: A quantitative analysis. Paper presented at the 2016 National Institute on the Assessment of Adult Learning June 8-10, 2016, Philadelphia, PA.

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