What does it mean for a society to be unable to read and write effectively? Theoretically, all development and intellectual advancement would be incommunicable, and our society would face a bleak future.

That is precisely the situation the United States may face if current trends and statistics continue to show fewer and fewer college students have the ability to read and write effectively by the time they graduate.

Illustration by Matt Boblet

The New York Times recently reported that in one semester, 32 percent of students selected for a study did not take classes that required more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent of them did not take classes that required 20 pages of writing over the entire semester. They also reported that the students they followed studied less than half the amount of time full-time students in the 1960s spent studying.

It has become apparent that secondary institutions are less rigorous — but why?  Secondary institutions have become the new high school equivalent. Many students cannot get a good job straight out of high school anymore. This means there is more of an emphasis on students getting through college solely to earn a degree instead of on the educational opportunity college can provide.

Even students who are interested in coming to college to get a stellar education are implicitly encouraged to get through college as quickly as possible, as fees and tuition continue to rise. It has become harder for the average family to afford to send their aspiring student to college, at a time when it is absolutely necessary to get a college education to be competitive in the job market.

This leads to increased class sizes and even less emphasis on each student’s learning experience. Teachers aren’t capable of teaching such large classes effectively, and some have switched from papers to multiple-choice tests to maintain their workload. This doesn’t only mean overwhelming work for the teachers. It also means that students get less out of their education today than they did 50 years ago.

We should commend the UC Santa Cruz administration, however, for changing the school’s GE system to make sure every discipline includes a writing-intensive requirement. This will ensure that students graduate with the skills they need to be confident in the job market. However, this change comes in the wake of the demise of narrative evaluations, an element of a UCSC education that has set the school apart since its founding. No longer do students receive direct feedback and explanation to supplement the grades they’ve earned, further shifting priority from the learning experience to a grade and GPA.

At commencement, it would be deplorable to see students who look back on their years at college and say, “That flew by too quickly,” or “What did I learn while I was here?” Instead of regretting their choice to attend college, students should look back on their experience and know they learned everything they imagined they wanted to when they started college, and the system they paid into was worth the money they spent.

Emphasis on education at secondary institutions should be the highest priority, instead of the degree students are awarded at the end of their decreasingly rigorous years at college. Students will come to college and know they will attend, learn and eventually graduate with something more valuable than a piece of paper: an education.