Students & Parents | General Education

Study urges colleges to require more basics

HERALD-DISPATCH   |  August 30, 2010

A recent study examined how many of 714 American colleges and universities provide a solid general education on subjects that students can use as the building blocks for their careers and good citizenship.

The findings, released this month by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, suggest that many colleges and universities are lacking—that their requirements for course offerings in seven core subjects weren’t sufficient.

Marshall University was among the institutions studied, and the result was a grade of C. That grade reflects that MU’s requirements for composition, a foreign language and science are adequate, but the survey stated that Marshall’s course content or requirements fall short in economics, literature, U.S. government or history, and mathematics.

Of the institutions that were graded, 209 got a C, while 135 received a D and 103 were graded F. Only 16 colleges or universities, or 2 percent of those studied, got an A, while 251 earned a grade of B.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni describes itself as an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability at America’s colleges and universities.

The group argues that it is essential for today’s college graduates to be proficient in reading and writing; understand enough math, science and economics to be able to function in the 21st century job market; be able to communicate effectively in a foreign language, since we live in an increasingly interconnected world; and have a working knowledge of the history and governing institutions of this country that prepares them for informed citizenship.

“Topics like U.S. government or history, literature, mathematics, and economics have become mere options on far too many campuses. Not surprisingly, students are graduating with great gaps in their knowledge—and employers are noticing,” ACTA reported.

ACTA also notes that current workers hold several jobs during their working life, and a solid general education is crucial for graduates to adapt to a changing job market.

All of these are sound arguments worth serious consideration—not only by the institutions but also by students. Should they take narrower-focused classes that may be easier or seem more interesting? Or should they tackle more comprehensive courses that will challenge them?

Marshall officials said they believe the university has done a good job in the past, but they have been working in recent years to revamp MU’s core curriculum. That new curriculum debuts this semester and is described as being more in depth and requiring more critical thinking by students.

“The new core curriculum certainly covers subjects in these areas, and we believe strongly that it will better prepare our students to succeed at Marshall and in their careers,” said Chief of Staff Matt Turner.

That sounds promising, and we hope the new course offerings and requirements meet their goals.

Our nation’s colleges and universities are expected to offer a lot. But goal one should be to require students to take well-rounded, comprehensive courses in the subjects that will provide them a strong foundation, not only in their professions or careers but as citizens, too.


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