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Peter Ford: Why China is welcoming both Israel's Netanyahu and Palestinians' Abbas
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April 29, 2013
Poland's new Jewish museum celebrates life, doesn't revisit Holocaust
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April 26, 2013
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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
August 26, 2009 / 6 Elul 5769
What Will They Learn?
When parents plunk down $20, $30, $40 and maybe $50 thousand
this fall for a year's worth of college room, board and tuition, it might be
relevant to ask: What will their children learn in return? The American
Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) ask that question in their recently
released publication, "What Will They Learn: A Report on the General
Education Requirements at 100 of the Nation's Leading Colleges and
ACTA conducted research to see whether 100 major institutions
require seven key subjects: English composition, literature, foreign
language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and science.
What ACTA found was found was alarming, reporting that "Even as our students
need broad-based skills and knowledge to succeed in the global marketplace,
our colleges and universities are failing to deliver. Topics like U.S.
government or history, literature, mathematics, and economics have become
mere options on far too many campuses. Not surprisingly, students are
graduating with great gaps in their knowledge and employers are
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that only
31 percent of college graduates can read and understand a complex book.
Employers complain that graduates of colleges lack the writing and
analytical skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. A 2006 survey
conducted by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families,
the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource
Management found that only 24 percent of employers thought graduates of
four-year colleges were "excellently prepared" for entry-level positions.
College seniors perennially fail tests of their civic and historical
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni graded the 100
surveyed colleges and universities on their general education requirements.
Forty-two institutions received a "D" or an "F" for requiring two or fewer
subjects. Twenty-five of them received an "F" for requiring one or no
subjects. No institution required all seven. Five institutions received an
"A" for requiring six general education subjects. They were Brooklyn College
of the City University of New York, Texas A&M, University of Arkansas
(Fayetteville), United States Military Academy (West Point) and University
of Texas at Austin. Twenty institutions received a "C" for requiring three
subjects and 33 received a "B" for requiring four or five subjects. ACTA
maintains a website keeping the tally at Whatwilltheylearn.com.
ACTA says that "paying a lot doesn't get you a lot." Generally,
the higher the tuition, the less likely there are rigorous general education
requirements. Average tuition and fees at the 11 schools that require no
subjects is $37,700; however, average tuition at the five schools that
require six subjects is $5,400. Average tuition fees at the top national
universities and liberal arts colleges are $35,000 (average grade is "F").
Dishonest and manipulative college administrators might try to
rebut the report saying, "We have general education requirements." At one
major state university, students may choose from over 100 different classes
to meet a history requirement. At other colleges, students may satisfy
general education requirements with courses such as "Introduction to Popular
TV and Movies" and "Science of Stuff." Still other colleges allow the study
of "Bob Dylan" to meet a literature requirement and "Floral Art" to meet a
natural science requirement.
ACTA's report concludes by saying that a coherent core reflects,
in the words of federal judge Jose Cabranes, "a series of choices the
choice of the lasting over the ephemeral; the meritorious over the
meretricious; the thought-provoking over the merely self-affirming." A
general education curriculum, when done well, is one that helps students
"ensure that their studies and their lives are well-directed."
ACTA says that a recent study reports that 89 percent of
institutions surveyed said they were in the process of modifying or
assessing their programs. What these and other institutions need is for
boards of trustees, parents and alumni to provide the necessary incentive to
administrators and there's little more effective in opening the closed minds
of administrators than the sounds of pocketbooks snapping shut.
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