Press Releases | General Education

National Survey Shows Weak Standards in Midwestern College Curricula

November 14, 2017 by ACTA

WASHINGTON, DC—There’s room for improvement in Midwestern colleges, according to the latest edition of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s (ACTA) curricular survey, What Will They Learn?™.

Now in its 9th iteration, What Will They Learn?™ evaluates the strength of college general education programs, an important proxy for academic quality. Grades are awarded on an “A” through “F” scale according to the inclusion of seven key subjects: Composition, Literature, (intermediate-level) Foreign Language, U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics, and Natural Science.

Colleges earn an “A” by requiring six or more of these core subjects; there are only 24 in the country and only one, Southern Baptist University, graces the Midwest.

Midwestern graduates can leave school with significant gaps in their knowledge. Of the 271 colleges surveyed in the region, only 3% require students to study economics and a mere 8% have a three-semester foreign language requirement. This impairs graduates’ ability to compete in an increasingly competitive and global marketplace. Even more disconcerting for the overall health of the nation is the 92% of Midwestern colleges that fail to require U.S. government or history courses, thus contributing to well-documented civic illiteracy.

“The Midwest is home to some of the most prestigious public flagships in the country, but many of these universities are failing to ensure that every student is equipped with the necessary knowledge they need to work and participate in a democratic republic,” said Eric Bledsoe, ACTA’s Vice President of Curricular Improvement and Academic Outreach.

While the Midwest’s percentages are only slightly lower than the national average, it lags behind other regions in the U.S. in terms of curricular rigor. Nationally, a majority of higher education institutions receive grades of “C” (31%), “D” (24%), and “F” (12%). Only 20% of Midwest schools secured a “B” grade, with the rest of the schools receiving grades of “C” (33%), “D” (31%), or “F” (16%).

 “There is significant opportunity here for Midwest colleges to distinguish themselves by recommitting to a liberal arts curriculum that gives students the breadth and depth they need in the 21st century workplace,” said ACTA President Michael Poliakoff.

To bolster academic standards on campuses, ACTA encourages colleges and universities to adopt a rigorous liberal arts education. Many general education programs across the country—including some in the Midwest—are built on a series of distribution requirements and do not adequately prepare students for an increasingly tough job market. Expansive curricula and correspondingly vast course catalogs can contribute to increased instructional spending while confusing the path to a degree.

By filling some curricular gaps, educators in the Midwest can quickly improve their institution’s grade. Adding just one more core course requirement would help 89 schools improve from a “C” to a “B” grade, making the region more competitive.

To see which subjects your school requires, visit on your computer or mobile device.


CONTACT: Christine Ravold,


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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