WASHINGTON – Economics,U.S. history,intermediate-level foreign language,mathematics and literature – these subjects are not required at a majority of American liberal-arts universities,according to a study released Monday.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni released the study “What will they Learn?” comparing more than 700 universities through a detailed review of online catalogs rather than by reputation. Only 16 schools received an “A” (average tuition $13,200),and more than 100 schools failed (average tuition $28,200).
“Too many schools across the country allowing are college students to graduate with great gaps in their knowledge,” said Anne Neal,ACTA president,at a press conference. “We shouldn't let education be a hit-or-miss situation.”
The study found that less that 5 percent universities require economics,and less than 20 percent require broad surveys of American history or government.
Some of the schools acing the test include Baylor University,Texas A&M and the University of Arkansas. At the other end,Harvard and Georgetown universities received “Ds,” and Northwestern and Johns Hopkins universities received “Fs.”
Graduation rates were also at opposite ends of the scale. Vanderbilt University received a “D” in the study but has a graduation rate of 91 percent. East Tennessee State University received an “A” but graduates 43 percent of its students.
The study evaluated seven elements comprising a liberal arts education: composition,literature,foreign language,U.S. government or history,economics,mathematics and natural or physical science. To receive an “A,” universities had to require six or seven of the core subjects as part of their curriculum.
Some other experts agreed there has been a downward shift in education. Herbert London,president of the Hudson Institute and founder of New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study,spoke about the deterioration of education before the study was released.
In his new book,”Decline and Revival in Higher Education,” London provides anecdotal illustrations of what he termed a decline. He said it started in the post-Vietnam period when student radicals “dominated” their institutions.
“Today,freshmen bring almost nothing in,and seniors take even less out,” London said. “The consequence is that you don't have the level of intelligence you once did.”
Gary Rhoades,general secretary of the American Association of University Professors disagrees. He said it is not that higher education is declining,but the demand for higher education is increasing,and there are not enough educators on campuses.
More than 18.6 million students were enrolled in higher education institutions in 2008,according to the Census Bureau.
“We are a knowledge-based economy,” Rhoades said. “If you are going to increase the percent of students in higher education,then you need to increase human capacity to teach and advise them.”
Budget woes have forced many public university systems to raise tuition. Students at California schools will pay 30 percent more this year than last. At other universities, increases are in the 3 percent to 4 percent range.
A 2008 study by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities found that state support for public universities had risen by less than 1 percent over 20 years,while tuition had risen at more than twice the rate of inflation.
Changes in the Consumer Price Index have been near zero for much of the last year.
London said the revival of higher education must come with the activism of the people who help pay the bills – parents,alumni and trustees.
“You find the academy is changing because of the skepticism and the financial pressures that exist,” London said. “People have come to the realization they are no longer confident that this is the institution you can count on.”