Students & Parents | Core Curriculum

What Will They Learn? 2022-2023

A Survey of Core Requirements at Our Nation's Colleges and Universities
January 18, 2023 by ACTA Download PDF

Most college ranking systems, like the U.S. News & World Report, do not evaluate what students actually learn in the classroom. What Will They Learn? is the only rating system that examines the course catalogs of each school to provide an urgently needed alternative assessment based on an institution’s core curriculum, the program of study that all students share. ACTA’s research team also collects data on several indicators that predict student success after college, including student-to-faculty ratios, campus-specific student loan default rates, graduation rates, the state of free expression on campus, and cost of attendance.

What Will They Learn? has been documenting for the last 14 years the crisis of weak core curriculum requirements. In addition to helping students choose the right college for the right reasons, ACTA works with college and university leaders on campuses around the country to strengthen curricula and raise academic standards.

Key findings from the 2022 What Will They Learn? rankings:

  • Fewer than one-fifth of colleges and universities require students to study U.S. Government or History. Fewer than one-third require a literature course.
  • Of the top 25 national universities, according to U.S. News & World Report, none earn an “A” grade. Seven receive an “F.”
  • Of the top 25 liberal arts colleges, according to U.S. News & World Report, onlytwo earn an “A” grade: West Point and the United States Air Force Academy. Over half of these schools receive a “D” or “F.”

“American colleges and universities have a duty to educate students and to prepare them for life within liberal democracy,” said ACTA Vice President of Policy Bradley Jackson. “Many schools today are simply failing to meet this standard. Higher education should leave students more thoughtful, more empathetic, and much more learned. Sadly, too few colleges and universities require a broad-based, strong core curriculum that promotes rigorous thinking and responsible citizenship; and our public culture shows it.”   

Amid skyrocketing tuition and crippling student debt, it is becoming harder and harder for young people to gauge the true return on investment from a college education. Given the high cost of attendance, it is more important than ever for students to choose a college that will equip them to succeed in the workplace, engage in productive civil discourse, and lead meaningful lives. What Will They Learn?’s online college search tool makes it easy for students, parents, and high school counselors to assess which schools are putting students first by offering a high-quality education at an affordable price.

Find the 2022–2023 ratings here. Visit our interactive college choice tool here.


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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