WASHINGTON, DC —An alarming new report found that students at most schools in the Centennial State can graduate from college without completing courses in core subjects. For example, instead of having to take a course in American history or government, students at CU–Boulder can satisfy the school’s weak “United States Context” requirement through “Horror Films and American Culture.”
The 2016–17 edition of What Will They Learn?™, an annual curricular survey conducted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), reports that most Colorado colleges allow students to graduate with serious gaps in their knowledge.
Seven of 16 Colorado schools, including the state flagship at Boulder, earned the middling grade of “C.” Three institutions, including the University of Northern Colorado, failed altogether. Only two colleges in the entire state, the United States Air Force Academy and Colorado Christian University, earned “A” grades for requiring at least six of the seven core subjects. Regis University was the only Colorado institution to receive a “B.”
The survey grades colleges and universities on the inclusion of general education requirements in the following subject areas: Composition, Literature, Mathematics, Natural Science, U.S. History or Government, Economics, and Intermediate-level Foreign Language.
In all, the least required subjects were foreign language, economics, and U.S. history. In a state with an increasingly multilingual population, only one college requires intermediate competency in a foreign language. Colorado’s two “A” schools are its only institutions with a U.S. history requirement. And only three schools require economics. These omissions, and the resulting knowledge gaps, are troubling for students who trust their colleges to prepare them for post-graduate careers.
“The findings of this report are serious: Classes on Miley Cyrus, baseball, and horror movies may fill seats, but they don’t enrich minds and certainly don’t justify the steep cost of tuition,” said Dr. Michael Poliakoff, ACTA’s president and the University of Colorado System’s former vice president for academic affairs and research. “With so many colleges in the state replacing expectations of core knowledge with a buffet of electives, students are left directionless and graduate without the foundational skills gained through immersion in the liberal arts.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni urges institutions to reform curricula by requiring more of these core subjects. Tightening these requirements would improve academic standards and reduce the cost of attendance for students, shifting limited resources from often under-enrolled boutique courses back toward the central topics of general education.