The rush to relevance begun by college administrators in the 1960s never stopped. “The low marks received by many institutions show students are graduating without math, science and other fundamentals and underscore the urgent need for parents, students, and policymakers to focus on what colleges expect of their students,” the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) declares.
ACTA has just published a study entitled, What will they learn? A report on General Education Requirements at 100 of the Nation’s Leading Colleges and Universities. “Out of 100 institutions we examined, 25 received an F for their core curricula, 17 got Ds, and 20 got Cs,” the survey shows. “Only 33 out of the 100 earned Bs and only 5 out of the entire group earned an A.”
The results get even more depressing when you realize that ACTA surveyed schools which have received the U. S. News & World Report seal of approval—the magazine’s top 20 in fact. Moreover, ACTA only looked at course catalogue titles not classroom content.
The group will, though, include graduation rates on the whatwilltheylearn.com website. It is in the classroom, as groups such as Accuracy in Academia and others have frequently discovered, that even traditional subjects become the cause du jour of experimenting professors.
ACTA itself has come to the same conclusion in some of its earlier, equally painstaking polls. In this general education inquiry, though, ACTA gave the University of Texas at Austin an A after a thorough review of its catalogue and curriculum. We have yet to find an individual professor at UTA whom we could recommend but we’re still looking.
Nevertheless, it is still possible to get a good education in schools that have mostly gone to seed, although students usually have to go on a real treasure hunt to find it. “Everything conspires against the student getting an education,” recent Yale graduate Michael Lee Pomeranz said at the National Press Club event in which ACTA released its report. “The pressure is on to take the easy way out.”
Pomeranz didn’t. He was in the directed studies program at Yale. “It was tougher than Shops and Shopping, a graduate course,” he notes wryly.
Joseph Boyle of College Parents of America, claims that many graduates do not have the ability to read, write and count” when they get their Bachelor’s degree. Boyle formerly worked for Sallie Mae, the country’s number one provider of high education financing.
Sadly students may not arrive in the higher ed institution of their choice with those skills either. We have written about the 50% remediation rate in post-secondary education that indicates that half of all collegiates should be somewhere else.
Even the educational establishment is coming to acknowledge this trend. “ACT’s results reveal that still too many high school graduates cannot adequately perform some of the essential college-ready skills in English, writing, reading, mathematics, and/or science,” the ACT itself admitted on August 19, 2009. “In writing, for example, approximately 40 percent of 2009 ACT-tested graduates were not able to use the correct adverb or adjective form in a sentence, use the correct preposition in a phrase, or make sure that the subject and verb agree in a sentence.”
“In reading, 30 percent of the graduates were unable to evaluate the contribution that significant details make to the text as a whole.” The situation does not improve when computational skills are assessed.
“In math, nearly 40 percent of the 2009 graduates could not solve multi-step problems involving fractions and percentages,” the ACT reports. “And in science, 40 percent could not predict the results of an additional trial of a scientific experiment.”
“ACT’s research shows these types of skills are needed for students to be ready for college and work.” Still the group tried to put the best face on this year’s scores but admitted that “The national average ACT composite score for 2009 graduates was 21.1, unchanged from 2008 and 0.2 point higher than in 2005.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.