Have colleges watered down their curriculums?

A survey seeks to  answer that question.

In a prior  post, we reported that employers think that most college graduates are poorly prepared for the work force in such areas as critical thinking, communication and problem solving.

See A bigger college scandal than the recent admissions bruhaha…

Let’s dig a little deeper on that sentiment.


The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) conducted a survey of “Core Requirements at our Nation’s Colleges and Universities” to determine what students are really learning in college.

Specifically, the ACTA survey focused on the courses that a student is required to take outside the major.

These courses — commonly called general education classes or the school’s core curriculum — are, according to the ACTA, “ the foundation of a school’s academic program”.

They are the courses “generally  designed to equip students with essential skills and knowledge” for work and for life.

Here is specifically what ACTA was looking for…


ACTA assessed core curriculum requirements in seven crucial areas:

  1. Composition: Language skills including grammar, style, clarity, and argumentation.
  2. Literature: The attentive reading and reflection … that is fundamental training for critical thinking.
  3. Foreign Language: An increasingly critical competency  in an inter-connected, multi-lingual world.
  4. U.S. Government or History: A working knowledge of the history and governing institutions … that is indispensable for the formation of responsible citizens
  5. Economics: An understanding of  the fundamentals of the marketplace and the principles that govern the allocation of goods and services.
  6. Mathematics: Study beyond the level of intermediate algebra; logic courses focused
    on abstract logic; computer science courses that involve programming or advanced analytics.
  7. Science: Mastering the basic principles of scientific experimentation and observation, preferably with a laboratory component.

One might quibble with the list, but I think it represents a pretty good baseline.


Focusing  these 7 core curriculum components, ACTA researchers culled through over 700 schools’ course catalogs and web sites to determine what courses were being offered and, more important, which courses were required of all students.

Specifically, they wanted to know: “Are undergraduates getting a reasonable college-level introduction to the seven core subjects?”

Tomorrow, we’ll tell you what they found….


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One Response to “Have colleges watered down their curriculums?”

  1. Dixie Catlett Says:

    In part, colleges may be adjusting to student expectations when they fail to require a well-rounded curriculum requirement. Students’ demand for being an “educated person” after college graduation is definitely on the decline. Many students now demand to spend time only on “career-relevant” courses, both to minimize student debt and to accelerate entry to the job market. This doesn’t, IMHO, bode well for our society nor for one who wants eventually to enjoy all that life has to offer.

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