ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

  • Who are we? Where did we come from? What are the foundations of our civilization and how can we sustain them? These are questions that have inspired and motivated since the beginning.

    They underscore a belief that a shared understanding, a shared knowledge, helps unify and advance civilization. Indeed, the American system is uniquely premised on the need for an educated citizenry. Embarking on the experiment of a democratic republic, the Founders viewed public education as central to the ability to sustain a participatory form of government. In recent years, however, there has been a breakdown in the belief that shared learning is important. Higher education has tended to focus more on a long list of electives than a common core of learning.

    "Our scheme of government and of life can succeed only if ... men and women will engage in careful, enthusiastic, and guided study of common values, common dangers, and common opportunities."

    — Alexander Meiklejohn (1872-1964)

    America's colleges and universities educate almost two-thirds of our citizens, including all of our school teachers, lawyers, doctors, journalists, and public leaders. They set the admissions and curricular requirements that signal to students, teachers, parents, and the public what every educated citizen in a democracy must know. If colleges and universities no longer require comprehensive curricula that introduce students to the major areas of study, we are all in danger of losing a common frame of reference that has sustained our free society for generations.

    WHAT WE ARE DOING

    Understanding the Problem

    ACTA's annual What Will They Learn? report evaluates over one thousand colleges and universities, public and private, and found a staggering 88%, in this age of globalization, do not require intermediate-level foreign language study of their baccalaureate graduates. And 83% do not require a basic course in U.S. history and institutions that prepare students for informed citizenship. At 66% of the institutions, students can graduate without taking a college-level literature survey, and at 97%, students can leave without studying one of the most urgent topics of contemporary life—economics.

    ACTA produces reports and guides on pressing matters in academic affairs. ACTA’s 2016 report No U.S. History? examined the decreasing standards within history major programs: Only seven of the top 25 liberal arts colleges required history majors to take a course in U.S. history. Another 2016 report, A Crisis in Civic Education, found that 10% of four-year college graduates thought that Judith Scheindlin—otherwise known as TV’s “Judge Judy”—served on the Supreme Court.  

    ACTA has been sounding the alarm for quite some time: Our 2007 report Vanishing Shakespeare surveyed English curricula at 70 top universities and found that only 15 required their English majors to take a course on Shakespeare. Instead, they are offering electives on children's books, food, film, and sex. In 2000, ACTA released its eye-opening report Losing America’s Memory which revealed that 81% of seniors from the top 55 U.S. colleges and universities failed a high school level history exam, and that none of the institutions surveyed required a course in American history. Three-quarters required no history at all. Do students know these subjects already? In a Roper survey commissioned by ACTA in the fall of 2012, regrettably college students proved they have immense gaps in their understanding of history and civics.

    Advocating Reform

    ACTA is dedicated to urging colleges and universities to adopt strong, liberal-arts-based core curricula. A solid core curriculum ensures that every student receives a basic grounding in the major fields of human knowledge. It directs the energy of the institution to sound educational values: on knowledge of content, great books and major achievements, and on teaching what students need to know. And it enables students to live thoughtful lives informed by such study. ACTA has worked successfully to support programs and policies that encourage high academic standards and strong curricula, and advises higher education leaders on how to improve their standards. ACTA’s Fund for Academic Renewal consults donors and directs philanthropic gifts toward donor-funded academic programs that engage in critical areas of inquiry. ACTA opposes practices that threaten or undermine academic standards and believes that the mission of higher education is teaching, learning, and the pursuit of truth.

    Learn how ACTA provides opportunities and information for alumni & donorstrusteespolicymakers, and students & parents regarding higher education reform.

    Our Initiatives