Students & Parents | General Education

Report: Most liberal arts requirements are average or below average

USA TODAY   |  October 22, 2016 by Christy Osler

For many college students, taking core and general education requirements is a drag.

But it could be that we need more core requirements, not fewer.

A report released by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that two-thirds of the 1,100 colleges surveyed earned a “C” grade or lower for their general education requirements.

The “What Will They Learn?” report evaluated the strength of major undergraduate colleges and universities in the United States’ core curriculum based on seven key areas of knowledge:

Intermediate-level foreign language
Natural science
U.S. history or government

The schools received an “A” through “F” letter grade based on their requirement of the seven courses. Those that earned a “C” grade require only three of the seven courses, while the schools that earned an “A” — which was only 2% of the surveyed schools — required six of the seven.

Which courses are lacking? The report found that out of the seven subjects, many schools do not require U.S. history or government, intermediate-level foreign language or economics; 82% do not require history or government, 87% do not require foreign language. And a whopping 97% of schools don’t require students to take economics.

In other words, most colleges allow students to graduate without completing courses in these seven areas. As a result, many students may graduate at a disadvantage because they are unprepared for careers and life with gaps in their knowledge.

“Employers — and our nation — need graduates who have a solid grounding in the liberal arts, and this research shows definitively that too many colleges have turned their backs on general education, even as their tuition rates are at an all-time high,” Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said in a press release. “Charging such high tuition rates without preparing students for career, community and citizenship is simply unacceptable.”


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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