Press Releases | General Education

New Report Exposes the Crisis in Civic Education among College Students

Culture of Civic Ignorance Fuels Student Efforts to Quash First Amendment Rights and Expunge Historic Figures from Campus
January 13, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC— In its latest report, A Crisis in Civic Education, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni concludes that the vast national expenditure on civic literacy over the last two decades has had little effect on civic understanding. Recent attempts at civic education disregard the need for substantive academic requirements and therefore fail to develop knowledge of American institutions of government. Their narrow focus on civic projects and activities has only deepened the crisis of civic illiteracy.

Surveys of the knowledge base of college graduates — commissioned by ACTA and conducted by GfK — have found that almost 40% of college graduates didn’t know that Congress has the power to declare war and nearly half couldn’t recognize the term lengths of members of Congress. That same study unearthed the shocking fact that nearly 10% of participants thought that Judith Sheindlin — “Judge Judy” — is on the Supreme Court.

ACTA’s new report concludes that, without comprehensive curricular change and rigorous requirements, American colleges will graduate generations of students who lack the knowledge that is indispensable for engaged and thoughtful citizenship.

“Our country depends upon an educated populace; and while civic activity and service learning are important, they simply cannot substitute for substantive learning about our history and government,” said ACTA President Anne D. Neal. “It’s time that colleges and universities replace their anything-goes approach to the curriculum with specific subject-matter requirements that will empower America’s next generation of leaders.”

A Crisis in Civic Education directs important recommendations to college and university trustees, alumni and donors, state and federal governments, and foundations. These recommendations include a call for college and university trustees to insist that graduates have at least one broad-based course on American history and government that includes substantial focus on the founding documents. In the absence of trustee action, it urges state legislators, with due regard for academic freedom, to establish guidelines. It also urges foundations to target their gifts to programs that enhance civic education: The report applauds the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gilder Lehrman Institute for inspiring civic understanding by funding student attendance at the acclaimed Hamilton musical and providing resources for further classroom study.

ACTA is an independent, nonprofit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability at America’s colleges and universities. ACTA will distribute copies of A Crisis in Civic Education to college and university trustees and state governors and legislators.

For access to the full report, click here.

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Christine Ravold
Communications Officer


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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