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A new study released Monday by the National Endowment for the Arts highlighted sobering negative trends in the frequency that Americans read.

But perhaps even more troubling than the general declines in readership reported in the study was data that indicated college graduates showed some of the sharpest drops in reading frequency and proficiency.

According to the study, both reading ability and the habit of reading regularly have greatly declined among college graduates.

College students are also reading less material not assigned by their professors than in years past.

This has serious implications for the economic, cultural and civic life of graduates. Reading more frequently correlates with higher salaries, a greater likelihood to vote and increased rates of attendance at cultural events such as plays, art exhibits and operas.

Though socioeconomic variables muddle any direct cause-and-effect relationship between reading frequency and wealth, cultural appreciation and civic involvement, it’s generally accepted that people who read more expand their intellectual horizons and grow as human beings.

The decrease in reading frequency and reading proficiency among college students also underlies another disturbing trend in American education: the failure to produce a crop of students who can think critically and form their own conclusions, rather than just regurgitate information.

Though an ability to read and write critically are not absolutely necessary to thinking critically, if colleges aren’t producing students who can comprehend dense reading material and write a persuasive, well-reasoned essay, they aren’t producing students who can think well. Fuzzy

writing, and by extension fuzzy reading, are sure signs of fuzzy thinking.

Graduates’ ability to think and make rational decisions about the world around them not only makes them better equipped to handle the types of complex jobs a growing economy demands, it also makes them better citizens. At a time when students and young college graduates are noticeably absent from polling booths, it’s important for colleges to foster more civic involvement.

Not only do frequent readers vote more, they are also more informed and better able to make their own critical decisions about what politicians are saying.

A democracy without critical, well-informed thinkers is a farce, and if this generation of college graduates aren’t among those thinkers, then who will be?