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Trustees | General Education

AU, UA score well on evaluation

MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER   |  September 1, 2009 by Editorial

Alabamians can take considerable pride in the findings of a new national study that shows our state’s two largest institutions of higher learning ranked higher than many other ostensibly more prestigious schools in a critical academic measurement. Auburn University and the University of Alabama both scored Bs in a ranking of 100 colleges and universities. Only five As were awarded.

The survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni examined the core curriculum requirements at the institutions and found them sadly deficient in many cases. A number of the institutions, including some with the biggest names and highest tuitions, do not require coursework in fundamental areas or allow academically dubious coursework to satisfy requirements.

The result is predictable—graduates who have a diploma, but do not have the broad-based background of knowledge generally associated with an educated person. Many are not well prepared to deal with a competitive world, not because they aren’t intelligent or because they don’t have certain strengths, but because they are not well educated in the broadest sense of the term.

“Students seldom learn what they are not expected to learn,” the report notes. “No matter how good individual majors are, if our colleges don’t get general education right, students will get a spotty education that will not prepare them for a life well lived.” The review of institutions found that “Almost half do not require a genuine, college-level math course; almost 90 percent do not require students to take a survey course in American government or history; and only two require students to take a basic course in economics.”

The report lists some truly troubling examples. Northwestern University students can fulfill their math requirement by taking music theory. At Cornell University, taking a course called “International Films of the 1970s” will satisfy the literature requirement. At Wesleyan University, a course called “Physics for Future Presidents” is deemed sufficient to meet the science requirement.

The five institutions earning As in the report were the University of Arkansas, City University of New York-Brooklyn College, the University of Texas-Austin, Texas A&M University and the United States Military Academy.

The Bs awarded Auburn and Alabama ranked them with the flagship state universities of Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Strong core curricula are well worth maintaining—enhancing, in fact, as a B can always be pulled up to an A—and we urge the trustees at both AU and UA never to lose sight of that.

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