Neal is co-founder and president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit committed to advancing academic quality, accountability and affordability at colleges and universities in the U.S.
What is one of the most surprising things you have discovered on this job?
America depends on an educated citizenry. The country wants to assure that colleges and universities produce graduates who are armed with the skills and knowledge to be effective citizens. And yet recent studies have shown some very depressing results about the quality of the education our students are receiving.
Explain some of your findings.
We have found that there are very few schools around the country that have a coherent educational framework for the first two years of their curriculum. So students can graduate with vast gaps in their skills and knowledge. For example, less than 20 percent of colleges and universities expect students to study U.S. government or history. In one study, college seniors couldn’t answer who was the father of the Constitution or identify lines of the Gettysburg Address or understand the separation of powers.
How does this translate into the work force?
There is a growing chorus of complaints from the business community in various surveys saying students do not have the skills and knowledge they need. In one study, almost 90 percent of employers said colleges need to raise their quality of standard in order to remain competitive.
What do you think most people don’t know about higher education in the U.S.?
I think many alumni assume that college is exactly the way it was when they went to college. What we have found is over the years, what used to be a much more coherent set of requirements has been replaced by an ‘anything goes’ mentality. Now it’s such an interesting time in higher education reform because we are seeing states strapped for funds, endowments down, and employers struggling to find students who actually have the skills they need.
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
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