Washington, DC—As the nation prepares to celebrate the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth tomorrow, many college students may wonder what all the fuss is about. Sure, they will have heard of the sixteenth president—who is, after all, on every penny minted since 1909—but studies show they will be hard pressed to understand his significance.
In its survey of college seniors at the nation’s best universities, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni reported some of the lowest scores on Lincoln questions: Only 22 percent could link the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” to the Gettysburg Address, and only 26 percent knew what the Emancipation Proclamation actually proclaimed.
“As Lincoln taught us, a house divided against itself cannot stand—and neither can one with a weak foundation,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “That’s what today’s colleges are giving their graduates, by not making sure they know the basics of American history and government.”
In its report The Hollow Core, ACTA had found that only seven of the fifty leading universities surveyed had an American history or government requirement. ACTA has now surveyed 100 major institutions and the proportion is essentially unchanged.
Notably, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Indiana University-Bloomington, and the University of Kentucky-Lexington—the flagship public universities in the states most closely associated with Lincoln—do not require American history or government.
“‘We cannot escape history,’ Lincoln warned Americans more than a century ago,” said Neal. “But it’s clear that unless things change, college graduates will, in fact, escape history and be blissfully ignorant of their ignorance.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an independent non-profit dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality and accountability. Since its founding in 1995, ACTA has counseled boards, educated the public and published reports about such issues as good governance, historical literacy, core curricula, the free exchange of ideas and accreditation in higher education.