The picture above is the result of a 10-question quiz given to (purported) college graduates from 1974 until last year, taken from the site The Audacious Epigone. That gentleman’s description and analysis of the plot should be read by all.
The GSS vocabulary test may be this, as discussed at the Inductivist. It is a series of 10 questions, each multiple choice, where one has to know the definition of these words:
Level 1: Edible (96.2%), Broaden (96.1%).
Level 2: Space (84.4%), Pact (84%), Accustom (82.1%), Animosity (77.9%).
Level 3: Cloistered (38.6%), Caprice (35.3%).
Level 4: Emanate (28.7%), Allusion (25.7%).
This was taken from the comments of somebody calling himself Jason Malloy. The percentages are the average correct responses, perhaps over the entire public and not just the graduates.
Now I take it as a given that every regular reader of this site would score 100% on this quiz, and would not be taxed unduly in the effort. Indeed, I take it that knowledge of these words (and the words used in the multiple choices) would be the bare minimum, and really below that minimum, for a college graduate. If you can graduate “college” and not know what allusion means, the degree awarded has little value.
There is a fuzziness to the plot not shown, which must be accounted for when we want to apply the results to the public as a whole. But we’ll take it rough and ready, and not read too much into it.
When we’re asked by some social service worker, or whomever, “Here, take this vocabulary quiz”, the average, and indeed more intelligent person, might become bored and rush through. Mistakes not related to knowledge happen. Which is why, the Epigone plotted nine or ten correct.
Four decades ago, 12% of the population had degrees. Today, 33% does. If, in the early seventies, that 12% roughly corresponded with the top 12% of the IQ distribution, then the 6% of the population that aced the Wordsum test would comprise 1 in 2 of those grads. If today that 33% roughly corresponds with the top 33% of the IQ distribution, then the 6% of the population acing the Wordsum test would be a bit more than 1 in 6 of today’s grads.
More or less, plus or minus. What’s more concrete is the increase in the public who have “degrees”. The Census bureau estimates in 1940 about 5% who had a Bachelors or higher, rising to about 25% in 2009. High school was completed by about 25% (by age 25) in 1940, jumping to somewhere north of 80% in 2009.
In 1940, one had to come from a non-poor family or be of high intelligence to graduate college. And we have all have seen the tests from the days of yore and know that the material that the graduates were expected to know then was of a much higher difficulty than today. Here is a test from 1912 for eighth-graders, containing a spelling test at least much more taxing than the GSS WORDSUM.
It is obvious that the material from 1912, even suitably updated for our current year (“Which president was impeached, and on what charge?”), would be too much for many enrolled college students today. The score for college graduates on the WORDSUM should be 100%, or very close to it, recalling the ambiguity in identifying college degree holders and the impatience with taking a boring test and so on. But in 1974 it was only 50%. And today it is about 15%.
Obviously, 1974 is after the turmoil of the ’60s, when the inflation in education set in hard. We can’t look to dates before this because of the GSS’s inception, but I can’t see anybody seriously arguing that something well north of (say) 95% of college students graduating in 1940 would not have aced the test. There would have been a tailing off after World War II, as we might expect, because of the GI Bill, but the sharpest descent began around 1968.
the “first accredited women’s studies course was held in 1969 at Cornell” (Wiki). It was straight downhill after that.
The conclusion is obvious: the majority of college degrees are of little value in judging a person’s intellectual capacity. Inflation has set in with a vengeance. Given the push by our leaders for more to enter college—to get a “degree” and not to gain an education—the value of the degree will continue to decline.
In the limit and if our masters have their way, everybody by age 25 (or whatever) will possess a Bachelors degree. At that point, the degree is of no value in discriminating intellectual ability. How could it? Everybody, by definition, has one.