Press Releases | General Education

What the College Rankings Won’t Tell You

New website and report grade universities on education, not reputation
August 19, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC—How much will it cost? How is it ranked? And how hard is it to get in? Many college guides and rankings answer these questions. But there is one question that none of them even ask: What will students learn?

A new, free website for parents and students,, does just that.

Launched today by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, will be featured in a full-page ad in U.S. News & World Report’s 2010 college rankings, which are released tomorrow. The website evaluates colleges and universities based on their general education curricula: the core courses aimed at providing a strong foundation of knowledge. assigns each institution a grade from “A” to “F” based on how many of the following seven core subjects it requires: Composition, Mathematics, Science, Economics, Foreign Language, Literature, and American Government or History. Only a handful get A’s.

“Employers are increasingly dissatisfied with college graduates who lack the basic knowledge and skills expected of any educated person,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “If our students are to compete successfully in the global marketplace, we simply can’t leave their learning up to chance. As it is, thousands are paying dearly for a thin and patchy education.”

Mel Elfin, founding editor of U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings, praised the website as “an invaluable and unique additional resource for parents.” “By focusing on what students are getting in the classroom, this new resource highlights what in the long run is far more important than the name of the institution on a graduate’s diploma,” said Elfin.

ACTA simultaneously released a printed report on general education, also entitled What Will They Learn?, which grades 100 leading colleges and universities in the same manner as the website. The low marks received by many institutions show students are graduating without math, science, and other fundamentals and underscore the urgent need for parents, students, and policymakers to focus on what colleges expect of their students.

How do the 100 colleges and universities fare?

42 institutions receive a “D” or an “F” for requiring two or fewer subjects.

5 institutions receive an “A” for requiring six subjects: Brooklyn College, Texas A&M, UT-Austin, University of Arkansas, and West Point. No institution requires all seven.

Paying a lot doesn’t necessarily get you a lot: Average tuition at the 11 schools that require no subjects is $37,700. At the 5 schools that get an “A”, it’s $5,400.

“Flagship” state universities do a markedly better job with general education (average grade of “C”) than the top liberal arts colleges and national universities (with an “F” average) while charging much lower tuition and fees.

Which important subjects are not being required?

— Only 2 out of 100 require economics (University of Alaska-Fairbanks & West Point)

— Only 11 out of 100 require American government or history

— Barely half—53 out of 100—require mathematics

“This study demonstrates that our colleges and universities have abdicated their responsibility to direct their students to the most important subjects,” said Neal. “No eighteen-year-old, even the brightest, should have to determine which combination of courses comprises a comprehensive education. But most colleges are offering nothing more than a ‘do-it-yourself’ education.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an independent non-profit dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, 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.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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