‘Tis the season for annual college rankings from a variety of sources. The usual suspects have published their views.
But there’s a rogue player in the game: The American Council for Trustees & Alumni. The College of William & Mary earned a “C” from the council’s second annual report card, What Will They Learn?, which Provost Michael Halleran quickly dismissed as “meaningless.”
Halleran is wrong when he claims there is no meaning behind the report. ACTA put years of effort into its review, looking at the general education requirements of 700 colleges and universities around the country. The goal was to alert the public to the end result of a college education in modern America and to urge parents, students and, yes, college administrators to revisit what the ultimate goal of higher education is and what it should be.
What, indeed, will students have learned when they graduate? What skills and knowledge base will they have to go forth into the world as critical thinkers and useful employees?
When Halleran says, “We have a wide set of requirements, we just don’t have their set,” he’s right, but “specific” vs. “wide” is not a sound argument against any particular set of standards.
If you go by Halleran’s logic, having a broad set of general education requirements is good. But what does that mean?
It means there’s no conclusive end result. It means the college hasn’t really considered what their graduates will take with them as a knowledge base. Or, to be fair, they’ve done an average job—a C’s worth—of thinking it through. That’s not good enough for the Alma Mater of a Nation.
The point of the report isn’t just the grade itself as an end, to be dismissed by administrations unwilling to consider that they are not producing graduates with the right stuff. The point is to generate a discussion. The topic is not meaningless. It is timely, urgent, imperative.
I personally would rather have ACTA’s standards in place, for they pretty much guarantee that our graduates will be able to write coherently in standard English and that they will have a solid grounding in American history, two things that are sorely lacking in today’s graduates.
If you don’t believe me, do a survey on campus. Go around and ask students simple questions such as, “What’s the difference between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’? Or, “What are the Federalist Papers and why are they important?” Ask a professor or two and perhaps an administrator.
Take the time to look at what passes for general education choices in the college catalog. Ask yourself if the college is truly producing the results we most want and need in America.
You’ll find it a meaningful exercise, I promise.
Karla K. Bruno graduated from William & Mary in 1981, “back when writing was a required course and Shakespeare not an endangered species.” She lives and writes in Arlington.