Inadequate College Curriculum Contributes to Failure.
The number of history, political science, and economics courses a student is required to take, or chooses to take, helps determine, together with the quality of these courses, the extent to which a student will acquire knowledge about America’s history and institutions during college. Students don’t learn what colleges don’t teach.
Both the quality and number of courses matter, as the contrast between Rhodes and Cornell illustrates.
When it comes to learning about America’s history and institutions, Rhodes works as a college should, imparting knowledge to its students. Cornell works like a giant amnesia machine, where students somehow forget what they once knew. The average Rhodes senior scored 7.42 points higher than the average Rhodes freshman in this year’s survey; the average Cornell senior scored 4.95 points lower than the average Cornell freshman.
On some survey questions, the loss of basic knowledge about America among Cornell students was startling. Cornell seniors, for example, trailed Cornell freshmen by 31% in knowing that Marbury v. Madison established the power of judicial review, by 17% in knowing that Fort Sumter came before Appomattox, and by 28% in knowing that the Monroe Doctrine discouraged new colonies in the Western Hemisphere. At Rhodes, meanwhile, seniors were more likely than freshmen to know each of these things.
How Many Courses Are “Enough”?
Given that the average senior scored 54.2%, or an “F,” on the American civic literacy exam, it is not surprising that the average senior had taken a total of only four college courses in history, political science, and economics. These consisted of an average 1.9 history courses, 1.1 political science courses, and 1.05 economics courses.
Students who were otherwise similar in family background and college characteristics gained approximately one percentage point in civic knowledge during college from each additional course they reported taking in history, political science, or economics. But in the subcategory of American history, Cornell seniors reported taking an average of only 0.39 courses. In other words, most Cornell seniors had not taken a single American history course. This was also true of Woodrow Wilson’s Princeton, even though its campus was a Revolutionary War battlefield and interim capital of the United States.
The variation across schools in civic learning per course, however, suggests that the issue is not merely about how many courses a college student takes, course quality also matters. Each college that ranked in the top five in this year’s survey for increasing civic knowledge—Eastern Connecticut State, Marian College, Murray State, Concordia University, and St. Cloud State—also ranked in the top five for civic knowledge gained per course. Each of the five lowest-ranked schools for increasing civic knowledge—Cornell, Yale, Duke, St. John’s, and Princeton—also ranked in the lowest five for civic knowledge gained per course. These schools could increase civic learning without diminishing the number of courses students take in other subjects simply by improving the quality of the civics courses their students already take.
|TOP 10 THINGS STUDENTS “UNLEARNED” ABOUT AMERICAN HISTORY|
|Although the average college senior outscored the average college freshman by 3.8 points overall on the American civic literacy exam, seniors were especially less likely than freshmen to correctly answer questions about major themes in American history. Here are the themes of the top 10 history questions that seniors were less likely to answer correctly than freshmen.|
|1. Power of judicial review||-10.47|
|2. President Washington’s foreign policy||-8.03|
|3. Monroe Doctrine||-7.75|
|4. The Federalist Papers||-4.70|
|5. Settlement of Jamestown||-2.03|
|6. American Revolutionary War||-1.83|
|7. War of 1812||-1.56|
|8. Civil War events||-1.54|
|9. Thomas Paine and Common Sense||-1.49|
RHODES ON TOP AGAIN
Rhodes College ranked first in both the 2005 and 2006 American civic literacy surveys, in terms of civic value added, among the 18 colleges included both times. The consistent high performance of Rhodes illustrates a general pattern across the 2005 and 2006 surveys that provides additional confidence in the survey’s findings. When a college ranked high in 2005, it also tended to rank high in 2006. This stability is all the more remarkable in that a new set of students was sampled at every college. This statistically significant positive association between the performances of colleges across the two years additionally confirms the stability in the colleges’ relative performance, as well as the validity of the student sampling and testing methods.
|COMPARATIVE RESULTS FOR REPEAT COLLEGES|
|2006 Results||2005 Results|
|College||2006 Rank||Freshmen||Seniors||Value Added||2005 Rank||Freshmen||Seniors||Value Added|
|Rhodes College (TN)||1.||53.76%||61.18%||+7.42%||1.||50.63%||62.23%||+11.60%|
|Washington & Lee University (VA)||3.||62.46||66.98||4.52||10.||63.61||63.85||0.24|
|Calvin College (MI)||4.||51.99||56.45||4.46||2.||49.52||58.99||9.47|
|University of Florida||5.||48.96||53.40||4.44||12.||48.55||47.78||-0.77|
|University of North Carolina||6.||53.26||57.68||4.42||9.||54.83||56.46||1.63|
|University of Michigan||7.||46.68||51.00||4.32||11.||52.13||52.07||-0.06|
|University of Washington||8.||51.63||55.88||4.25||8.||48.32||50.13||1.80|
|Grove City College (PA)||9.||63.64||67.26||3.62||3.||58.98||68.37||9.39|
|George Mason University (VA)||10.||47.28||49.96||2.68||4.||50.87||55.86||4.99|
|University of Virginia||11.||62.95||65.28||2.33||13.||63.73||62.66||-1.07|
|Wheaton College (IL)||13.||62.87||64.98||2.11||7.||59.69||61.64||1.95|
|University of California-Berkeley||14.||57.03||56.27||-0.76||18.||60.44||54.87||-5.57|