Students & Parents | General Education

Survey Finds Many Colleges Lack Core Liberal Arts Requirements

US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT   |  October 22, 2014 by Sam Hayes

A recent survey from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) found that many universities lack important core requirements for those studying the liberal arts, according to a press release. The 2014-2015 “What Will They Learn?” report looked at seven areas of study the ACTA calls “essential” for such students: literature, composition, economics, math, intermediate level foreign language, science, and history. 

Of the 1,098 four-year colleges that took part in the survey, only 23 had requirements for six of these seven subjects, giving them an “A” score, while 98 schools received “Fs” for only having one core class. While most schools have requirements for science and composition, only 3% required economics, 13% called for foreign language and 18% had American history or government, according to the survey.

“It’s much easier for campus administrators to let faculty make decisions rather than to decide with them what are really important and what really matters,” Michael Poliakoff, director of the survey, tells The Wall Street Journal. “It’s like saying to a lot of 18-year-olds the cafeteria is open, you kids just eat whatever you like.”

Whittier College, which received an “F,” says the school isn’t bothered by the results of the survey because their education strategy wouldn’t be reflected in the results, according to The Washington Post. Whittier uses courses that involve multiple disciplines and logical thought learning rather than strict core requirements. Other schools that did well pointed to core courses as the basis of a better post-college education. 

Not all universities’ and colleges’ core requirements are treated equal, according to the report from ACTA. While some institutions have an American history requirement, they may allow students to complete this through a film class or other course that wouldn’t address the basics of American history or U.S. government. 


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.

Discover More