Might as well just say it: garbage in, garbage out.
On average, students make strides in their ability to reason, but because so many start at such a deficit, many still graduate without the ability to read a scatterplot, construct a cohesive argument or identify a logical fallacy.

“Even if there is notable growth over four years, many students are starting at such a low point they may still not be proficient at the point of graduation,” said Jessalynn K. James, a program manager at the Council for Aid to Education, which administered the test. The CAE is a New York-based nonprofit that once was part of Rand Corp.

The exam, known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus, measures the intellectual gains made between freshman and senior year. The test doesn’t cover subject-area knowledge; rather it assesses things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication—essentially mimicking the baseline demands for professionals.
David Brooks is thinking about Our President's so-called free community college, yet identifies the fundamental problem.
Community colleges are not sticky places. Many students don’t have intimate relationships with anyone who can guide them through the maze of registration, who might help bond them to campus.

You’d figure out the remedial education mess. Half of all community-college students arrive unprepared for college work. Remedial courses are supposed to bring them up to speed, but it’s not clear they work, so some states are dropping remediation, which could leave even more students at sea.

You’d focus on child care. A quarter of college students nationwide have dependent children. Even more students at community colleges do. Less than half of community colleges now have any day-care facilities. Many students drop out because something happens at home and there’s no one to take care of the kids.

In short, you wouldn’t write government checks for tuition. You’d strengthen structures around the schools. You’d focus on the lived environment of actual students and create relationships and cushions to help them thrive.
I think that's called inculcating the life-management skills of the middle class.  Develop self-discipline with eight year olds, maybe the incidence of family emergencies goes down, maybe the self-inflicted deficiencies in reading and arithmetic become rare.

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