Press Releases | General Education

Report Card: Illinois Colleges and Universities Earn Low Marks for Liberal Arts Requirements

Only two colleges in the Land of Lincoln require U.S. history; three in four get a “C” or worse for weak requirements
December 9, 2016 by ACTA

WASHINGTON, DC—Illinois colleges and universities are leaving large numbers of graduates with significant gaps in their knowledge and career preparation because of their weak curricular requirements, according to the latest edition of What Will They Learn? from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).

Of 43 public and private colleges and universities surveyed, liberal arts programs in the Land of Lincoln returned dismal results: More than three-quarters earned a “C” or lower for allowing students to graduate without a thorough immersion in the liberal arts. Now in its 8th edition, What Will They Learn? evaluates the strength of core curricula at more than 1,100 colleges and universities nationwide. Schools receive a grade on an “A” through “F” scale based on the requirement of seven key subjects: Composition, Literature, Intermediate-level Foreign Language, U.S. History or Government, Economics, Mathematics, and Natural Science. Among the survey’s findings:

  •          More than three in four colleges and universities in Illinois fail to require a course in literature.
  •          Only two universities in the whole state require civics (U.S. history or government) or economics.
  •          Only five institutions in Illinois require intermediate competency in a foreign language.
  •          40% of Illinois institutions surveyed do not require their students to complete a course in mathematics.
  •          Only 25 schools in the entire country receive an “A” by requiring six or more of the core subjects. Not a single Illinois college or university earned an “A” rating, and only ten even earned a “B.”

“While the Chicago Cubs made history this fall, Illinois colleges and universities are neglecting it in large numbers by failing to promote the study of America’s past,” said Dr. Michael B. Poliakoff, President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. “Too many core subjects have virtually disappeared from graduation requirements on Illinois’s college campuses. Higher education leaders should seriously re-examine their curricular priorities in order to ensure that students are well-prepared for careers and life after college.”

Most public colleges and universities received a very low rating for their general education requirements—11 of 12 programs surveyed received a C or worse. Governor Bruce Rauner and state legislators have been embroiled in a budget impasse for the past two years, unable to agree on a plan to finance what has become one of the most expensive state university systems in the country, ranking in the top five for tuition and fees. The report’s findings point to curricular reform as further proof that Illinois colleges and universities can reduce costs by eliminating frivolous courses and increasing their focus on the traditional liberal arts.


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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