ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Initiatives: What Will They Learn?


What does it mean to be a college-educated person?  This is the question that ACTA’s What Will They Learn? project addresses. And it matters now, more than ever.

A college diploma has traditionally been taken as a credential that meant success after graduation. Now, however, in the face of a global recession and a ferociously competitive job market where young adults change jobs on average 11 times in the first 25 years of their adult lives, what kind of college education prepares a young person for such a challenge?

ACTA believes students need a strong foundation of skills and knowledge, which can only be guaranteed by clear general education requirements. The goal of the What Will They Learn?™ project, therefore, is to encourage colleges and universities to strengthen their core curricular requirements. We achieve this goal by shining a light on the core requirements and making the information easily available to college-bound students, parents, high school guidance counselors, and higher education policymakers.

"The What Will They Learn? study points to shortcomings in higher education that have a real impact on U.S. competitiveness."

— John Engler, president of Business Roundtable

Starting with the institution’s own stated rationale for its general education or core curricular requirements, the What Will They Learn?™ project carefully evaluates the extent to which the actual requirements match the school’s stated beliefs and principles. ACTA does not consider a school’s prestige or wealth or reputation. ACTA asks the crucial question in its What Will They Learn?™ project: What are all students required to study in order to earn a given school’s diploma? How will that institution’s faculty and administration guide a young person to acquire the fundamental tools of success in career and community life?

WHAT WE ARE DOING

Our Method

Guided by the advice of eminent teacher scholars, ACTA examines seven core subjects: expository writing, literature, intermediate-level foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics, and natural science. The What Will They Learn?™ project evaluates nearly 1,100 American four-year colleges and universities, public and private, and reports how many of these core subjects each institution requires. We grade each institution “A” through “F,” according to the number of required core subjects, giving the public a clear measure at a glance of each school’s commitment to a sound and thorough undergraduate education.

Our Standards

What Will They Learn? awards credit in a core subject if the course is a true requirement, not an option, and it addresses the topic at a collegiate level. Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) examination results at an appropriately high level may stand as fulfillment of core requirements, but institutions do not receive What Will They Learn? credit in a core subject area if they accept high school level examination scores, such as ACT or SAT results, in lieu of collegiate level course work. 

Expert Panels

ACTA regularly convenes panels of distinguished teacher scholars to help the What Will They Learn? project establish standards for collegiate level coursework in the seven core areas it evaluates. The project also benefits from the advice of ACTA’s Council of Scholars.

Resources

Press