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Back to October Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 297 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS OCTOBER 2010

Pricey Tuition Doesn't Ensure Well-Rounded Education
Parents and students may want to think twice before taking on a second mortgage to finance Junior's tuition at Yale or other pricey universities commonly ranked in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report or the Princeton Review. According to an evaluation by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), less prestigious schools often offer a better grounding in core subjects deemed essential to a well-rounded education.

ACTA evaluated more than 700 four-year colleges and universities based upon their core curricular requirements in literature, composition (writing), math, economics, U.S. government or history, and an intermediate foreign language. The choice of those seven core subjects, according the group's website, is intended to ensure students graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be informed, productive citizens.

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Anne Neal, president of ACTA, is quick to say that the Council's grading system doesn't tell the whole story about any given school. It does, however, provide information that other studies focued largely on prestige and reputation don't. The What Will They Learn? report is a needed assessment tool because colleges often claim to provide a strong general education while allowing students to take niche classes to satisfy core curriculum components. For example, at California State University, Monterey Bay, students can count The History of Rock and Roll as their U.S. History required course. Emory University allows students to choose among 600 courses to fulfill their History, Society and Culture requirement, including one called Gynecology in the Ancient World. A class about television satisfies a Humanities, Literature and Arts requirement at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. These courses may be fun and even excellent, but they are problematic if they crowd out general knowledge and skills students need; therefore ACTA did not give credit for those kind of curricular options.

The results of the survey are jarring. Yale, Cornell and Brown were among 103 schools that received an "F" because they require just one, or none of the core subjects evaluated. Over 60% of the surveyed institutions received a "C" or worse for requiring three or fewer of those subjects, and pricey private institutions tended to score worse than public schools.

Only 16 of the schools got an "A," meaning they require at least six of the seven core subjects. Several are public institutions, such as East Tennessee State, Midwestern State and Kennesaw State University. Private schools Baylor and Thomas Aquinas College in California also made the "A" list, along with the United States Air Force and Military Academies.

The most neglected core subjects, according to the report, are economics and U.S. government and history, required in only 4 % and 19% of schools, respectively. This may explain why American college graduates are generally ignorant of the basic principles upon which the economy and government operate. For example, most don't know the purpose of the First Amendment, and 36% cannot name all three branches of government. "This is especially dangerous in America, where nothing holds us together except our democratic principles," said Harry R. Lewis, former dean of Harvard College. "Our children will not inherit our nationhood genetically." (Harvard, by the way, received a "D" in the ACTA report.)

The good news is that the average annual tuition and fees at the "A" schools came to $13,200, less than half the average tuition of $28,200 at the "F" schools (using 2009 figures). "We hope this [report] will be a wake-up call that colleges are asking for lots of money and major sacrifice by families, but in too many places they have really abdicated their responsibility to direct students to what they need to learn for success after graduation," said Neal.

You can compare what students will learn at different schools, along with tuition and graduation rates at whatwilltheylearn.com. (Chicago Tribune, 8-17-10; csmonitor.com, 8-16-10)


 
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