Maurice Black and Erin O’Connor, research fellows at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, write in “Illiterates,” a column in Newsday, that “younger Americans are deplorably uninformed about economic and financial matters.” They observe that “students who do not understand money become adults who are financially irresponsible.” And, of course, they become adults who are not equipped to understand broader economic issues involving government, such as taxation, debt and spending. From the column:

Some colleges and universities offer programs such as free and confidential peer counseling sessions or classes that teach undergraduates the nuts and bolts of managing their personal finances. But efforts along these lines are not being made systematically. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has found that only one of 100 leading American universities requires an economics course.

No wonder that a 2008 Intercollegiate Studies Institute survey revealed stunning levels of economic ignorance among the American people as a whole. Only 16 percent could differentiate free markets from central government planning. Less than 30 percent understood the relationship between taxes and government spending, and less than 40 percent knew what sort of fiscal policy would produce economic stimulus.

These problems are deepened by pre-existing deficits in essential literacy and numeracy skills. Some colleges have no math requirements at all. Even at schools that require quantitative reasoning, it’s often easy to avoid math. At the University of Pennsylvania, to take one example, students can satisfy their quantitative requirement with courses on anxiety disorders, perceptual learning or the family.

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  • http://www.reenchantment.net Ken

    Jay Leno has a regular segment on his Tonight Show that highlights an adult trying to answer a question asked of Second-Eighth Graders. Yes, they’re mostly about history but I believe they represent most of our citizens knowledge on lots of subjects, including Economics. That’s what ISI’s more recent Civics Literacy test revealed — 75% ignorant of civic knowledge necessary for informed participation in American Democracy.

    Case in point is the inability of respondents to the ISI test to identify the definition of Profit. Yes, it’s a multiple guess test.

    Yesterday, Senators Schumer [D] of New York and Reid [D] of Nevada both spoke of their desire to pass a tax law that would “virtually” take the bonus money already paid to AIG employees and contractors.

    And there you have it. Two senators forgetting that “ex post facto” is part of The Constitution of The United States. No wonder they think it no big thing that one of their own forgets to file his tax return.