Students & Parents | General Education

Study: Colleges failing to teach students basic information

WASHINGTON EXAMINER   |  October 15, 2014 by Ashe Schow

While politicians bicker over how and whether college students should consent to sex, the problem remains that those same students aren’t learning much in their colleges and universities.

A new study released Wednesday from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni titled “What Will They Learn?” found that just 18 percent of colleges and universities require a single course in American history or government. Only 13 percent require intermediate-level foreign language courses and just 3 percent require an economics course for graduation.

“Too many college rating systems rely on largely extraneous measures like alumni giving or selectivity to determine which colleges top their list,” Anne D. Neal, ACTA president, said in a press release for the study. “‘What Will They Learn?’ looks at the most important data — the strength of a college’s education — to find out which institutions are delivering the tools students will need to succeed in career and community.”

The study, which examined every public college in America and hundreds of private institutions, graded colleges on how well they were educating their students based on seven subject areas. Just 23 universities received an “A” grade for requiring at least six of the seven subject areas ACTA deemed “essential to a liberal arts education.”

Those subject areas are American history or government, composition, economics, literature, intermediate-level foreign language, math and science.

“One wonders what tuition and tax dollars are going toward when most colleges — even public ones — don’t require basic economics, foreign language, American history or even literature,” the study’s director, Dr. Michael Poliakoff, said in the press release. “Are we really preparing our nation’s next generation of leaders when our colleges are failing to ensure the most basic skills and knowledge?”

The study also found that 40 percent of surveyed institutions didn’t require a college-level math course, 17.4 percent didn’t require a basic English composition course, and 62 percent didn’t require a literature course.

One good sign is that 87 percent of surveyed colleges required a science course.

The study found that, oddly, public colleges “generally do a better job maintaining requirements in science and English composition than do private institutions.” Also, “historically black colleges and universities are noteworthy for their strong requirements.” Military service academies were also praised for their requirements.

Part of the findings indicate that college students may not be getting the best education for their tuition payments — and with student loan debt passing the $1 trillion mark, making sure that money is used for a quality education is essential.

For example, the study points to Amherst College as one of the most expensive institutions surveyed — with a tuition cost of $46,574 per year. For that price, students aren’t required to take any of ACTA’s seven essential subject areas, according to the study.

Among the 23 “A” schools were Pepperdine, Baylor, Morehouse College in Atlanta, Kennesaw State and Regent University.

Some “F” schools included well-respected institutions such as University of California-Berkley and Bowdoin.

A few more surprises:

– Occidental College (where President Obama studied briefly) received a “D.” Columbia (where he finished college) received a “B.”

– Yale (where George W. Bush graduated) received a “D.”

– Harvard received a “D.”

– Vassar received an “F.”

– Florida State University (where this author graduated) received a “B.”

Just 2.1 percent of the institutions surveyed received an “A,” 35.4 percent received a “B,” 30 percent received a “C,” 23.6 percent received a “D” and 8.9 percent received an “F.”


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