The University of Dallas was one of only 17 institutions given an "A" in the American Council of Trustees and Alumni's What Will They Learn? project. What Will They Learn? grades schools based on their core requirements, for, as their website says, "Many college guides and ranking systems measure institutions' prestige and reputation, but no guide has looked at what students are actually required to learn. That's what we are doing here."
"ACTA is an independent,non profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability at America's colleges and universities," said Michael Pomeranz, senior researcher at ACTA. Launched in 1995, the organization works with alumni, donors, trustees and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards and safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus.
What Will They Learn? includes nearly all public and private colleges and universities in the nation who claimed to be "liberal arts" schools, excluding technical institutions and trade schools. The grading criteria depended on whether the schools required courses in the following seven subjects: composition, literature (a general survey course), foreign language (through the intermediate level), U.S. history or government, economics, college-level mathematics and natural or physical science. Institutions received an "A" for the requirement of six or seven of the courses; "B" for four or five; "C" for three; "D" for two; and "F" for one or none of the courses.
The former dean of Harvard College, Harry R. Lewis, says in a letter on the project's website: "The venerable and honorable notion of 'general education' has, in other words, been reduced to a game. Students have to work their way through a vast menu of general education requirements, and do their best to find courses that fit the various categories as well as their schedules. This is deplorable indeed. At its best, general education is about the unity of knowledge, not about distributed knowledge. Not about spreading courses around, but about making connections between different ideas."
Pomeranz said the organization based its information on a detailed study of each school's course catalog, syllabi and any other available documents.
UD received an "A" for requiring all of the courses except composition, though its profile on the project's website includes a note saying, "Although the University of Dallas does not have a composition requirement, significant writing instruction is part of its Literary Tradition sequence." Pomeranz said, "The strong core at Dallas indicates that all students will graduate knowing the areas and skills they will use their whole lives."
Other schools on the list include Baylor University, University of Texas at Austin, Thomas Aquinas College and St. John's College, among others. Many prestigious schools, such as Harvard, Brown, Yale and Georgetown, received "D"s and "F"s, though "B" was the most common grade received.
The study's results, according to Pomeranz, are being distributed to guidance counselors and college trustees across the nation, so they can see how their school stands in relation to others around the country. "Primarily, the response is 'add more schools,'" he said.
"We think trustees should be concerned in ensuring that there's a strong core curriculum at their institutions," said Pomeranz, and What Will They Learn? is trying to ensure just that.