WHAT DO THEY LEARN?

Study shows many col­leges fail to teach stu­dent core writ­ing, math, crit­i­cal think­ing skills

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

Astudy in­di­cates the vast ma­jor­ity of col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are fail­ing to teach their stu­dents core dis­ci­plines nec­es­sary for success in the work­place and the main­te­nance of a free and self-gov­ern­ing repub­lic.

The “What Will They Learn?” re­port, com­mis­sioned by the Amer­i­can Coun­cil of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), surveyed 1,100 uni­ver­si­ties and found that just 18 per­cent re­quire stu­dents to take a course in U.S. his­tory or govern­ment, and only 3 per­cent man­date stu­dents take even one eco­nom­ics class.

Pub­lished last month, the sur­vey as­signs grades to ev­ery ma­jor un­der­grad­u­ate in­sti­tu­tion based on cur­ric­u­lar re­quire­ments in seven core dis­ci­plines: com­po­si­tion, lit­er­a­ture, in­ter­me­di­ate-level for­eign lan­guage, U.S. his­tory or govern­ment, eco­nom­ics, math­e­mat­ics and nat­u­ral sciences.

Only 2 per­cent of col­leges re­ceived a grade of A by re­quir­ing stu­dents to take classes in at least six of the seven sub­jects. Mean­while, two-thirds of uni­ver­si­ties in the re­port re­ceived a grade of C or lower.

ACTA Pres­i­dent Michael Po­li­akoff said the ero­sion of ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards in higher ed­u­ca­tion “puts stu­dents at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage” in an in­creas­ingly global econ­omy.

The re­port also asked for as­sess­ments of uni­ver­si­ties from their provosts, 100 per­cent of whom rated their schools’ abil­ity to pre­pare stu­dents for the work­force as “very ef­fec­tive” or “some­what ef­fec­tive.”

But when a sep­a­rate study this year asked em­ploy­ers to judge the per­for­mance of re­cent col­lege grad­u­ates, 70 per­cent said they lack ba­sic writ­ing, arith­metic and crit­i­cal think­ing skills.

David Whalen, provost at Hills­dale Col­lege, said he agrees with the gloomy pic­ture of higher ed­u­ca­tion painted by the re­port, but took is­sue with one as­pect of its grad­ing method­ol­ogy.

Ad­mit­ting with good-hu­mored cha­grin that Hills­dale’s clas­sics-based cur­ricu­lum re­ceived a B in the sur­vey, Mr. Whalen said the score­card dis­pro­por­tion­ately weighs ed­u­ca­tional breadth over depth.

“For in­stance,” he said, “one of these cri­te­ria is a re­quired course in his­tory or govern­ment. But to have a cur­ricu­lum as in­cor­po­ra­tive as does Hills­dale, where we have two spe­cific his­tory cour­ses re­quired and a course in the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion re­quired — in other words, a to­tal of three cour­ses ad­dress­ing those par­tic­u­lar ar­eas — that in­ten­sity of cov­er­age finds no way of be­ing re­flected in the sur­vey.

“As you might ex­pect, I think Hills­dale’s own score ought to be much, much bet­ter, so I would quib­ble about some of the ways in which they score things,” Mr. Whalen said.

As to the re­port’s broader find­ings, he said the rev­e­la­tion of lax ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards across the higher ed­u­ca­tion land­scape comes as no sur­prise given the state of un­rest on col­lege cam­puses.

Col­lege stu­dents mewl­ing about the threat posed by of­fen­sive Hal­loween cos­tumes, or de­mand­ing phys­i­cal safety from thoughts with which they dis­agree, may be ob­jects of ridicule and mock­ery to those on the out­side look­ing in.

But Mr. Whalen said these trou­bling ed­u­ca­tional trends do not bode well for the health of the repub­lic, not­ing that the very con­cept of self-govern­ment ne­ces­si­tates a cit­i­zenry that is able and will­ing to govern it­self.

“What hap­pens when you don’t have a lib­er­ally ed­u­cated cit­i­zenry is you get a cit­i­zenry that is (a) de­pen­dent on some big provider to just take care of them for their en­tire lives, and (b) they de­velop feel­ings that they are en­ti­tled to that de­pen­dency,” the Hills­dale provost said. “The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion’s pre­sump­tion on earn­ing ex­tremely high in­comes with very lit­tle work im­me­di­ately af­ter col­lege is leg­endary.”

He said the ex­cesses to which a demo­cratic repub­lic is prone are im­pos­si­ble to check “if you don’t have peo­ple who are mas­ters of their own minds and hearts.”

Mr. Po­li­akoff ad­vo­cated a re­turn to the lib­eral arts — such as lit­er­a­ture, phi­los­o­phy, math­e­mat­ics and lan­guage — to ad­dress the civic and eco­nomic chal­lenges that face Amer­ica.

“Em­ploy­ers — and our na­tion — need grad­u­ates who have a solid ground­ing in the lib­eral arts, and this re­search shows defini­tively that too many col­leges have turned their backs on gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion, even as their tu­ition rates are at an all­time high,” he said. “Charg­ing such high tu­ition rates with­out pre­par­ing stu­dents for ca­reer, com­mu­nity and cit­i­zen­ship is sim­ply un­ac­cept­able.”

Mr. Whalen con­curred, ar­gu­ing that the lib­eral arts in­still stu­dents with a rig­or­ous de­sire to un­der­stand the un­fa­mil­iar, which aids them in seek­ing the “good life” and striv­ing for ex­cel­lence in the work­place.

“An­other sim­pler and shorter way of say­ing it, if you per­fect and fur­nish stu­dents’ minds, which is what lib­eral ed­u­ca­tion does, the re­sult is not su­per­fi­cial cock­tail party ban­ter but rather the abil­ity to con­front a highly com­pli­cated and rapidly chang­ing world,” he said.

“What Will They Learn?” is a re­cur­ring sur­vey that is in its eighth edi­tion. It pro­vides a search­able data­base through which in­di­vid­ual col­lege and univer­sity grades can be ac­cessed.

Har­vard Univer­sity re­ceived a grade of D in this year’s it­er­a­tion, while fel­low Ivy League schools Prince­ton and Yale fared slightly bet­ter, each re­ceiv­ing a grade of C.

Among the few schools to re­ceive an A were Bay­lor Univer­sity, Colorado Chris­tian Univer­sity, Pep­per­dine Univer­sity and both St. John’s Col­lege cam­puses.

“Em­ploy­ers — and our na­tion — need grad­u­ates who have a solid ground­ing in the lib­eral arts, and this re­search shows defini­tively that too many col­leges have turned their backs on gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion, even as their tu­ition rates are at an all-time high.” — Michael Po­li­akoff, Amer­i­can Coun­cil of Trustees and Alumni

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A study finds only 18 per­cent of col­leges re­quire U.S. his­tory or civics cour­ses, and only 3 per­cent re­quire eco­nom­ics. Mean­while, col­lege stu­dents seem more con­cerned with “safe spa­ces” and voic­ing um­brage about of­fen­sive Hal­loween cos­tumes.

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