By Bill Korach www.thereportcard.org
The American College of Trustees and Alumni has just released their new report: “What Will They Learn.” Parents and would be students should read it carefully.
The findings are sobering: Of over 1,100 colleges and universities surveyed, over half have significant gaps in their curricula, leaving students at a disadvantage come graduation. Lackluster educational quality contributes to widespread doubt about the value of a college degree, especially as tuition climbs and graduates struggle to make payments on their student loans. What Will They Learn? 2017-18 and its interactive companion website WhatWillTheyLearn.com, can help orient students, parents, and trustees as they consider what educational quality looks like in 21st century America.
According to data compiled by What Will They Learn?™ researchers, the majority of colleges require students to study composition, math, and science. However, only 17.6% of colleges require students to take a course in American government or history. Even worse, only 12% of institutions require students to study three semesters of a foreign language, and a scant 3.1% require students to take a course in economics. “With so much public concern for how our universities prepare students for today’s economy and electorate, it is remarkable how many institutions are failing to require the foundational content that equips future graduates with the skills they need for career readiness and engaged citizenship,” said Eric Bledsoe, ACTA’s Vice President of Curricular Improvement.
Without a structured curriculum, many students, especially first-generation students, are left to chart the course of their education without the benefit of a thoughtful framework of study. Many students flounder as they negotiate hundreds, if not thousands of random courses among the distributional choices that are often allowed to replace a core curriculum. When colleges leave crucial curricular choices largely, or in some cases, entirely to students, they neglect educational responsibility. And all the while, students face steep and ever-rising tuition for a degree that is not properly designed to deliver the knowledge they need to succeed after graduation.
The weakness in general education requirements may also bode ill for our civic processes. Media outlets continue to draw attention to high-profile disinvitations of speakers and violent campus disruptions. Surveys show widespread ignorance on campus of how our institutions of government work, and document college students’ growing disregard for the core freedoms of speech and press.
In partnership with Heterodox Academy and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), ACTA has included more metrics of academic freedom to help students, parents, and guidance counselors assess colleges on the basis of their demonstrated commitment to the freedoms of thought and speech—the cornerstones of liberal learning.
“Knowledge is power, but it’s difficult to discern a college’s commitment to academic freedom or a liberal education based on brochures from the admissions office,” said ACTA President Michael Poliakoff. “This guide makes it easier to see which colleges do the most to prepare students for life beyond college by fostering intellectual discourse and providing a firm academic foundation.”
For some colleges, like George Washington, history majors are not even required to study American History. None of this bodes well for America’s future generation of leaders if they have no grounding in the history of their country.