Give Me an “F”

November 22, 2010

Well, actually, we got one.  The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has given us an F.  This comes via their “What Will They Learn” Project (“A guide to what college rankings don’t tell you.”)  Side note:  there is so much more that college rankings don’t tell you than ACTA could possibly imagine.

ACTA awards these grades by careful reading (their claim) of catalogs and other sources about what colleges and universities expect all their students to learn (i.e. the General Education requirements).  They have seven areas in which they are looking for substantive required courses:  Composition, Literature, Foreign Language, U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics and Science.

Here’s our report card from ACTA:

General Education Requirements

  • 1. Composition: NO
  • 2. Literature: NO
  • 3. Foreign Language: NO
    No credit given for Foreign Language because students may fulfill the requirement with elementary-level study.
  • 4. U.S. Government or History: NO
  • 5. Economics: NO
  • 6. Mathematics: NO
    No credit given for Mathematics because the Quantitative Reasoning requirement may be fulfilled with science courses.
  • 7. Science: YES
  • So we do get some credit for having a substantive learning requirement in Science, but even though we are one of a relatively small number of colleges to require second language learning of all students, we get no credit because they think our required level of proficiency too low.  They give us no credit for Composition because the first year courses we require of all students that involve a great deal of writing “do not focus exclusively on writing.”  Heavens!! We expect students to learn to write about something.  You can read about what we do require through General Education here.

    So we do get some credit for having a substantive learning requirement in Science, but even though we are one of a relatively small number of colleges to require second language learning of all students, we get no credit because they think our required level of proficiency too low.  They give us no credit for Composition because the first year courses we require of all students that involve a great deal of writing “do not focus exclusively on writing.”  Heavens!! We expect students to learn to write about something.  You can read about what we do require through General Education here.

    We are in good company, by the way.  We are one of thirteen colleges that belong to the Great Lakes Colleges Association.  Two of us (Denison and Hope) received “Ds” for having acceptable requirements in two areas (composition and science in both cases).  The rest of us got Fs.  A few of us passed muster in one of ACTA’s areas; the rest received no credit in any area.  Among other colleges receiving “Fs”:  Amherst, Haverford, Swarthmore and Williams.  Harvard got a D, Yale an F and Princeton and Stanford both Cs.

    If you’re curious, here is the complete list of colleges and universities receiving an A (exemplars of quality every one):

    City University of New York – Brooklyn College
    East Tennessee State University
    Kennesaw State University
    Lamar University
    Midwestern State University
    St. John’s College (MD)
    St. John’s College (NM)
    Tennessee State University
    Texas A&M University – College Station
    Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi
    Thomas Aquinas College
    United States Air Force Academy
    United States Military Academy
    University of Arkansas – Fayetteville
    University of Dallas
    University of Texas – Austin

    We do poorly, as do most other colleges and universities with high expectations for learning, because we believe that we cannot prescribe one package of essential knowledge for everyone to learn in a few years.  Instead, our focus is on creating critical, creative, self-sustaining learners — on preparing students to go on learning for the rest of their lives.  Moreover, we don’t think that the study of the United States is more important than learning about other parts of the world.  And we expect most students have already learned a great deal in high school.

    Who are these worthy folk making the judgments that inform “What Will They Learn?  Here is a list of ACTA’s Board members.  You be the judge of whether you want them deciding what should constitute a good college curriculum.  Me?  I’ll take the F from these folks.

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    About Doug Bennett

    Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
    This entry was posted in Assessment, Learning. Bookmark the permalink.

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