Shannon Watkins writes for the Martin Center about the potential for college exit exams.

Although there is no shortage of college graduates, a degree alone, unfortunately, does not guarantee students learned anything of substance while in college. The grade point averages listed at the top of many graduates’ resumes aren’t always reflective of students’ actual academic capabilities. University classes, particularly in the humanities, have become increasingly watered-down, making students’ “A-plus” grades virtually meaningless.

It’s no wonder employers have expressed concern about whether colleges adequately prepare students for the workforce.

According to a 2021 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 60 percent of surveyed employers said that “critical thinking skills” is “very important,” but only 39 percent reported that recent graduates are well-prepared in this area. Similarly, 56 percent of employers consider “application of knowledge/skills in real-world settings” to be very important, but only 39 percent thought recent graduates were able to perform this task well. And 17 percent of employers below age 40 report having “very little confidence” in higher education.

Of course, employers aren’t the only ones who miss out when colleges fail to produce knowledgeable graduates. Many students and their families make significant financial sacrifices in order to finance a college education. The average federal loan borrower, for example, owes $36,510.

Unless held accountable, colleges will likely continue to charge high prices for a substandard education. What can be done?

Some have proposed the use of a college exit exam, a standardized test that students must take before graduating. The Tennessee Board of Regents, for example, requires students who attend its 40 community and technical colleges to take an exit exam, the ETS Proficiency Profile, as a condition of graduation. This exam tests “college-level skills in reading, writing, critical thinking and mathematics” and is “designed to measure the academic skills developed through general education courses, rather than the subject knowledge specifically taught in those courses.”