U of C’s Core beats peer curricula with a B on survey

The Core received a B because it did not meet the survey’s standards for foreign language, U.S. History, or Economics requirements. It still fared better than most top universities.

By Gabe Valley

In a recent study released by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), the College received a B for its Core requirements, earning a higher grade than many Ivy League institutions.

The study, titled “What Will They Learn?”, focused on the number and types of courses that colleges require for their core curriculum. The College fulfilled four out of seven requirements, but did not satisfy the Council’s standards for foreign language, U.S. History/Government, or Economics.

According to the Council’s website, though the College “offers excellent Humanities and Civilization Studies sequences, which introduce students to a wide range of classic and modern texts,” it did not get credit for History because the courses are not specifically U.S. History or Government.

Nor did the College receive credit for the foreign language category because students are required to take a language class for only one year, instead of the three semesters that satisfy ACTA’s requirements.

The University did receive credit for the other four categories ACTA examined: Literature, Math, Composition, and Science.

The standards comprise what ACTA considers to be seven key subjects. To receive an A, an institution must require six or seven of the Council’s standards. ACTA’s study reviewed 718 colleges and universities across the U.S. and found that many are wanting in their general requirements: Only 17 schools received As, including St. John’s College, the Air Force and Military Academies, and University of Texas at Austin.

None of the Ivy League schools recieved A’s; Columbia received a B, Harvard a C, and the University of Pennsylvania a D. Brown, with its zero-requirement curricula, received an F. ACTA claims that even these prestigious colleges “are not demonstrating a commitment to a broad-based general education curriculum.”

ACTA professes on its website to ignore current college rankings, instead designating grades “based on applying objective criteria to institutions’ curricula.”

The Council claims to highlight information that traditional rankings do not consider, but Associate Dean of the College Michael Jones questioned the relevance of the ranking system. “If they’re only looking at the number of requirements, it really reduces the value of the study,” he said. “The exact number [of courses required] doesn’t seem to be a good measure of the quality of the education.”

University officials remain fervent about the Core, maintaining that it is one of the most important facets of the College.

“The Core is just over 75 years old, and more than any other single aspect of our curriculum, it has come to define the ethos and purpose of our approach to liberal education,” said Dean of the College John Boyer in an e-mail.

One of ACTA’s aims in releasing the study is to bring to the fore some major problems in liberal education today. But it’s unlikely the administration will alter undergraduate requirements.

“I don’t see any reason why this report would change what we do in the Core,” said Jones. “I think that the Core remains one of the most important features of our curriculum and a key reason why students are applying to the College,” Jones said.

At the student level, the Core is seen as an important element of education, but not necessarily consistent in providing a rigorous general education.

“I think it sets down a lot of important systems of thought.…But it’s not an objective foundation,” said Adrienne Swan, a second-year in the College. Swan said she found some Core classes to be much more challenging than others, and that just counting up requirements was a poor indicator of overall learning.