So I teach at a university with a very strong STEM program (which has those 40-60 averages in many classes, due to a LOT of factors, including very inconsistent teaching, students not prepared, etc.) and I have some things to offer here:
First, while my institution is public, it attracts a relatively high caliber of student. I have seen very few freshmen completely unprepared and the ones who are usually take some classes at a local CC to help save money on repeating. I have seen, in six years, one student who must have been very good at something because he wrote at approximately a third-fourth grade level. This is not hyperbole. It was tragic. He should not have been there. But most are pretty well prepared.
I have friends, however, who teach at state schools around the country and they have horror stories about students who just do not have basic skills and who don't understand why they don't just pass, because that's what happened to them in high school. That is one of the biggest problems. Remedial courses can help... but for some it's just not going to work out regardless until they learn how to be a student, and that's hard to teach.
Now, regarding this directly. It's not surprising to see them cutting writing classes, with the humanities under fire for years, despite numerous studies that point to (certain) humanities courses/degrees being very helpful in the workforce. But the cuts on the horizon, the next rumored target? Math departments. So part of me wonders if this isn't in line with those rumblings coming down the pipeline. The idea is that these days students don't need math classes, since a) university is being treated increasingly like job training and little else and b) students don't "need" that for their jobs, despite - again - numerous studies that identify benefits from studying math.
The tl:dr is that the whole system is broken.
The number of STEM students I knew who didn't take English classes seriously but strongly needed them...it was embarrassing. Especially how my field requires strong communication skills. I would help people with their papers and experience second hand embarrassment over how poor their skills are at a university level (and I don't think I'm some writing genius either). Also, not being able to follow basic stuff like report format. The same format was used for all the classes in the program...yet it was such a struggle to follow a few basic rules, apparently.