Press Releases | General Education

An Ivy League Let Down

Many of the most selective colleges in the country have weak general education requirements
October 7, 2015

WASHINGTON DC—The Ivy League universities are justly renowned as centers of research and teaching, but there are troubling weaknesses in the curricular requirements they set for their undergraduate students. The latest edition of What Will They Learn?, out this week from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) shows why.

What Will They Learn? evaluates over 1,100 public and private liberal arts colleges and universities based on their requirement of seven core subjects: composition, literature, intermediate-level foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, math and science. Schools are issued a grade from “A” to “F,” and when measured on this crucial indicator, the Ivy walls show some major cracks.

Although these elite institutions often dominate the upper tier of the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, not a single Ivy League university earned an “A” in What Will They Learn? The highest grades awarded went to Cornell University and Columbia University, both of which earned “Bs” for their curricula. Columbia’s core curriculum is the strongest in the Ivy League and covers composition, literature, intermediate-level foreign language, U.S. government or history, and natural science. Cornell requires four of these core subjects. Princeton, Harvard and Yale, which are respectively the top three in the U.S. News rankings get low marks for their general education requirements. None requires literature, U.S. history or economics, but all charge upwards of $41,000 a year in tuition. Brown University, which boasts of an “open curriculum,” received an “F,” requiring none of the seven core subjects.


Information in chart reflects most recently collected public data from the National Center for Education Statistics.


To see the full Ivy League report card, visit


Molly Mitchell
Director of Communications
American Council of Trustees and Alumni


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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