Press Releases | Civic Literacy

ACTA Releases Alarming New Survey Showing Dangerous Level of Civic Illiteracy Among College Students

July 9, 2024

America’s civic literacy crisis can no longer be ignored. Today, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) released Losing America’s Memory 2.0, a 35-question survey of 3,026 undergraduate students, assessing their grasp on basic facts about our nation’s history and government. The results should concern all Americans.

The survey, conducted by College Pulse between May 10, 2024, and June 19, 2024, includes the following findings:

  • Only 31% of students know that James Madison is the Father of the Constitution.
  • Sixty percent of students do not know the term lengths of members of the U.S Congress.
  • Only 27% correctly identify Kamala Harris as the president of the U.S. Senate.
  • Only 37% know that John Roberts is the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Only 23% of students know that the phrase, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people,” comes from the Gettysburg Address.
  • Only 35% know that Mike Johnson is the speaker of the House of Representatives.
  • Only 28% of students correctly identify the 13th Amendment as the government action that freed the slaves.
  • Only 32% know that a trial of impeachment takes place before the Senate, despite living through two recent presidential impeachment trials.

“Students today are sadly unprepared for participation in our democratic republic, as these results show,” said ACTA Vice President of Policy Bradley Jackson. “Our form of government requires citizens who understand its nature and history. It should not be possible to get a bachelor’s degree without learning the basics of American history and government, but this is the norm on our college campuses. American colleges and universities must step up and take responsibility for this sorry state of affairs. They must lead the way toward a renewal of civic education, rather than aggravating polarization and flattening our discourse with illiberal ideology.”

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff remarked, “The dismal results of our survey show that current students and recent college graduates have little idea of the American past or its core principles and values, no guide to take them through the roiling controversies facing us today or to enable them to defend and protect the free institutions that are the glory of our nation and an inspiration to the world. They cannot uphold what they do not comprehend. There is so much to be proud of as we near the 250th anniversary of our independence and the birth of our democratic republic. But being the world’s oldest democracy is no guarantee for the future of our democratic republic.”

The new survey builds upon ACTA’s mission to ensure that all American college students are required to take a course on U.S. history and government in order to graduate. Our extensive resources on civic education include our inaugural 2000 survey of the same name, Losing America’s Memory; our 2016 report, A Crisis in Civic Education; our 2019 survey, America’s Knowledge Crisis; and our unique college ratings tool, What Will They Learn?®, which assesses the core curricula of over 1,100 institutions nationwide.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gabrielle Anglin


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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