Press Releases | General Education

Northeast College Standards Remain Sub-Par According to Annual Survey

ACTA’s Survey of General Education Requirements in the Region Shows Little Improvement in American Higher Education
November 14, 2017 by ACTA

WASHINGTON, DC—Northeastern colleges and universities overall continue to perform below the national average in general education, according to the latest data from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s (ACTA) curricular survey, What Will They Learn?™.

Now in its 9th edition, What Will They Learn?™ evaluates the strength of college general education programs, an important indicator of 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 five are in the Northeast. Out of those five, three are military academies: the United States Coast Guard Academy, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, and the United States Military Academy. The other two are private institutions: St. John’s College in Maryland, and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire.

Overall, 313 Northeastern schools’ general education curricula were evaluated in the report. Of these, 204 institutions are private schools and 109 are public. Only 23% require a college-level course in more than three subjects considered essential by What Will They Learn?. In nearly every subject area, the region performs below the national average. Only 12.7% of Northeastern schools require intermediate-level foreign language study of every student. Most shocking is that only 6% require a course in U.S. government or history compared to the national average of 18%.

“The Northeast region has long been viewed as a bastion of excellence in American higher education and home to many of this country’s most highly regarded institutions. However, what we have found is that a majority of these colleges and universities are failing, at the most fundamental level, to provide an education geared toward long-term career success and informed citizenship,” said ACTA President Michael Poliakoff.

Many of these most elite liberal arts colleges and universities pride themselves on the extensive lists of course options and their flexible, open curricula, which place the final responsibility of designing a coherent college education on the students themselves, while providing little or no structure to ensure that their college education leaves them ready for the challenges ahead. By implementing a structured 30-credit general education program, these colleges could still offer students a modicum of choice, without leaving them vulnerable to educational gaps prevalent in most open curricula.

“A student can easily complete a curriculum that meets all of the What Will They Learn? criteria in his or her first year of college,” said Eric Bledsoe, ACTA’s vice president of curricular improvement. “This small set of requirements would go a long way towards ensuring that the Northeast’s college graduates are at least on-par with graduates from other regions in the United States in having had the sound, foundational college education that truly prepares them for career, citizenship, and community.”

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.

Discover More