Press Releases | General Education

Mixed Grades for America’s Colleges and Universities Reflect An Uneven Commitment to Liberal Arts Curricula

ACTA’s What Will They Learn survey of general education requirements shows bright spots as well cause for concern
September 18, 2018 by ACTA

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has released the 10th edition of its flagship annual survey of college general education curricula, What Will They Learn?, highlighting the wide disparity in academic standards across the country.

What Will They Learn? reviews the core curricula of over 1,100 four-year public and private institutions across the country to determine the rigor of each school’s general education program. Ratings are based on how many of the following seven core subjects are included in the curriculum: Composition, Literature, Foreign Language (intermediate-level), U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics, and Natural Science. Grades are awarded on an “A” through “F” scale, depending on how many of the seven core subjects institutions require.

This year, only 23 colleges and universities received an “A” grade, which requires at least six of these subjects; 342 schools received a “B” grade, requiring four or five of the seven core subjects. Highlights of the survey include:

  • Alarmingly, only 17.1% of schools require students to take a course in U.S. Government or History.
  • Only 3.2% of schools require the study of Economics.
  • Only 11.8% require students to study a foreign language at the intermediate level.
  • Southern institutions of higher education score highly, while curricula in many parts of New England are in urgent need of strengthening.

“Today’s graduate will confront globalized competition and make high stakes decisions as a citizen,” stated ACTA President Michael Poliakoff. “What Will They Learn signals that every college and university must come together and ensure that all graduates master the core collegiate skills needed to meet these challenges.”

This year’s What Will They Learn? survey will be complemented by ACTA’s rollout of a massive database of high school guidance counselors later this year. “Guidance counselors provide high school students and their families with critical information, advice, and direction during their college search,” says Megan Riethmiller, ACTA’s director of curricular improvement. “Our priority is to equip them to help students make choices based on a well-rounded curriculum that will prepare them for active citizenship and the demands of today’s workforce.”

To find out how the schools you are interested in are ranked in this survey, visit on your computer or mobile device.


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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