Citizen Collegiates?

, Garreth Bloor, Leave a comment

Higher Education in the United States is causing a “Coming Crisis in Citizenship” and the situation has prompted renewed efforts by groups like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), the Young America’s Foundation and the Leadership Institute to name but three.

An ISI study of 14,000 college freshmen and seniors at 50 schools revealed that the difference between freshmen and seniors in their knowledge of America’s heritage is so small as to be almost insignificant. Seventeen of the 50 schools surveyed exhibited negative learning. Overall, with average scores of 53%, seniors failed the civic literacy exam. This was just 1.5 percent higher than the average overall score for freshmen, which stood at 51.7 percent.

Findings like these are among the results released in a study, “The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education’s Failure to Teach America’s History and Institutions.” The study was released by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s National Civic Literacy Board, launched in 2002 to strengthen the teaching of America’s history and institutions at the college level.

Included in findings are but three of the following shocking facts:

• Less than half of the college seniors surveyed recognized the phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” as originating from the Declaration of Independence;

• Roughly 80 percent of college seniors were unaware that the federal government’s largest payout is for social security; and

• Even with their country at war in Iraq, fewer than half of the seniors (45.2 percent) could identify the Baath Party as the main source of Saddam Hussein’s political support. In fact, 12.2 percent believed that Hussein found his most reliable supporters in the Communist Party, and almost 5.7 percent said Israel.

“At many of the America’s most prestigious universities, including Brown University, Yale University and Georgetown University, seniors know less than freshmen about America’s history, government, foreign affairs and economy,” according to’s Randy Hall. Meanwhile, lesser-known colleges such as Rhodes College, Calvin College and Grove City College ranked at the top of ISI’s list.

The reality is that “students at relatively inexpensive colleges often learn more about America, on average, than their counterparts at prestigious, expensive colleges.” In addition, the Young America’s Foundation has annually showed some of the best colleges for learning in their top ten lists. Even at universities and colleges that are largely left-leaning, a minority of determined and steadfast conservative young people are working to educate fellow students on important issues and ideas.

The ISI’s report proposes five steps to take in working towards improving the situation in higher education:

• Improving assessment of learning outcomes at the college and university level;

• Increasing the number of required history, political science and economics courses;

• Holding higher education more accountable to its mission and fundamental responsibilities to prepare its students to be informed and engaged participants in a democratic republic;

• Better informing students and their parents, as well as public officials and taxpayers, of a given university’s performance in teaching America’s history and institutions; and

• Building academic centers of excellence on campuses to encourage and support the restoration of teaching history, political science and economics.

ISI President Kenneth T. Cribb, Jr.stated that the “ISI offers this report with the hope that it will stimulate corrective action and accountability among those immediately responsible for higher education — trustees, donors, alumni, parents, public officials, administrators, faculty and students.” Cribb added that the “ISI will provide a continuous flow of authoritative evidence that can be used to develop solutions that will strengthen the study of America’s history, government, foreign affairs and market economy.”

Garreth Bloor is an intern at Accuracy in Media.