Press Releases | General Education

Empty State of Mind: Most New York Colleges and Universities Leave Students Underprepared

Report: Two-thirds of New York liberal arts programs get low marks for their lax requirements
November 21, 2016 by ACTA

WASHINGTON—New York colleges and universities are leaving large numbers of graduates with significant gaps in their knowledge. Because of the weak requirements that they set, their students are ill-prepared for careers. The latest edition of the What Will They Learn? report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) found that, of 89 colleges and universities surveyed, more than two-thirds earned a “C” or lower for allowing students to graduate without a thorough immersion in the liberal arts.

As an example, Skidmore College does not require students to take courses in literature, U.S. history, or economics, but they can satisfy a weak social science requirement by taking “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, and Media.”

Now in its eighth edition, What Will They Learn? evaluates the strength of core curricula at more than 1,100 colleges and universities across the country. Schools receive a grade on an “A” through “F” scale based on how many of seven key subjects they require: Composition, Literature, Intermediate-level Foreign Language, U.S. History or Government, Economics, Mathematics, and Natural Science. Among the survey’s findings:

  • A whopping sixteen New York schools received a grade of “F,” for requiring one—or none—of the core subjects.
  • Only 11% of institutions require U.S. history or government, and only 3% require economics.
  • Nearly two-thirds of New York colleges and universities do not require a course in literature, and only twelve of the schools surveyed require foreign language at the intermediate level.

“New York has been the birthplace of some of the nation’s greatest literary and historical figures, but students who attend college there today may never learn about them!” said Dr. Michael B. Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. “Despite the fine reputations of New York State’s many public and private liberal arts institutions, too many are neglecting core subjects that provide students a strong foundation for career and citizenship. New York students and parents should take note as they make important decisions about college choice.”

Only 25 schools in the entire country receive an “A” by requiring six or more of those core subjects. The only higher education institutions in New York State that earned an “A” rating were two national service academies: the United States Military Academy and the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

Nationally, fully 32% of the 1,110 surveyed institutions earned a “C,” requiring only three of the seven core subjects. A large majority of institutions (82%) do not require their students to take a course in U.S. history or government. Only 13% require an intermediate-level foreign language. A mere 3% of colleges and universities require students to take even one course in economics.


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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