Students & Parents | General Education

MSU may offer better education than many others

TIMES RECORD NEWS   |  August 20, 2010 by Ann Work

Midwestern State University may offer its students a better general education than some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, according to a new study by the nonprofit American Council of Trustees and Alumni, or ACTA.

That could even include Harvard and Stanford University and schools like them, according to the study.

The findings are posted on a website called “What Will They Learn?” and purports to give unique information “on whether colleges make sure their students learn the things they need to know,” according to the site.

The study evaluated 714 four-year universities, ranking them on their core offerings. They looked for seven core subjects the ACTA had decided were necessary to be globally competitive and well-rounded: composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. history, economics, math and science.

Of the 714 universities examined, only 16 of them—MSU among them—rated an A for requiring six or seven of the core courses the ACTA deemed important.

For example, MSU requires all but a literature course and received an A.

Harvard, by contrast, requires composition and science only. Despite its 98 percent graduation rate and its $37,012 annual price tag, it rated a D.

“Students are graduating with great gaps in their knowledge—and employers are noticing,” according to the What Will They Learn? website. “If not remedied, this will have significant consequences for U.S. competitiveness and innovation.”

Too many colleges have adopted an “anything goes” approach to their general education, according to Anne Neal, ACTA’s president. That is a disservice to students who pay thousands of dollars for a solid education, she said.

Most Texas universities earned a B or higher in the study, which is no accident, according to MSU Vice President Robert Clark.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board stipulates core curriculum requirements for Texas schools, including six hours of history and six hours of political science in its core.

Texas is the only state in the country with such a restrictive requirement, Clark said.

Many other universities have “an almost completely open curriculum,” Clark said. “You plan what you want to take. They don’t have legislative mandates.”

MSU was the first of the state Texas schools to require a standard set of core subjects in the late 1970s, Clark said. “Then everybody had to get on board.”

What subjects need to be covered in a college “core” has become a controversial subject, he said.

When the Times Record News contacted MSU President Jesse Rogers on MSU’s landing on the ACTA’s A-list, he said he had five articles on his desk at that moment about the core controversy.

“One can’t open a chronicle of higher education without reading about core education,” he said.

Over the past 30 years, many options have been added into standard humanities or economics requirements, giving students far more to choose from, but MSU has kept more of the “traditional approach,” which has served it well, he said.

Despite that, MSU officials are reviewing its core courses with the intention of broadening them somewhat if possible, he said.

The process has begun with a focus group asking, “What do we want our students to know and be able to do?”

The core of 36 hours could be expanded to a very large core of 48 hours, he said.

This is all coming at a time when others are pushing universities to reduce their requirements for a baccalaureate degree from 130 hours to 120 hours to help students complete their degrees within four years.

Rogers is against a 120-hour requirement. “A university cannot prepare someone in 120 hours. Even though there’s a push to cut the baccalaureate degree down, we’re going to resist it,” he said.

Other schools that earned A’s in the ACTA study: Baylor University, City University of New York-Brooklyn College, East Tennessee State University, Kennesaw State University, Lamar University, St. John’s College (MD), St. John’s College (NM), Tennessee State University, Texas A&M University—College Station, Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi, Thomas Aquinas College, United States Air Force Academy, United States Military Academy, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville and University of Dallas.

MSU’s Clark said he looks at studies of this sort with “a jaundiced eye,” since you may or may not agree with the study’s methodologies. In this case, MSU shone brightly among its peers—but that hasn’t always been the case.

As recently as May 3, MSU’s West College of Education was ranked as one of Texas’ worst teacher training programs in a hotly contested report released by The National Council on Teacher Quality.

Even though the NCTQ standards did not match state standards required by the Texas Legislature, the Texas Education Agency or national standards set in place by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, the NCTQ ranked universities like MSU on standards of its own making, finding MSU’s College of Education “needing serious attention.”

Then—MSU Education Dean Grant Simpson dismissed the study and said its methodology was flawed.

However, with this “What Will They Learn?” nonprofit study and resulting website, MSU took a turn in the limelight. However, Rogers wouldn’t stretch the comparison to say that MSU was any better than Harvard or schools like it, he said.

“I think Harvard is a very good school also,” he said.

In addition to the rankings of college core requirements, the “What Will They Learn?” website provides information on how much schools charge per year, what their graduation rates are and what the colleges say about the education they offer.

According to the site, it can provide students and their parents with another tool to help them choose the right college.


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