How well-rounded do you require students to become?

'Students must be educated to think critically and be prepared to navigate an uncertain career path'
By: | September 28, 2020
A new reports gives 23 schools got an "A" for requiring students to take a well-rounded course of study. More than 130 institutions got a failing grade. (GettyImages/Adam Crowley)A new reports gives 23 schools got an "A" for requiring students to take a well-rounded course of study. More than 130 institutions got a failing grade. (GettyImages/Adam Crowley)

Some 365 colleges and universities earned an “A” or a “B” for requiring a well-rounded course of study for their students, an annual report finds.

Just 23 schools got an “A” for requiring students to take courses in six of the following seven subjects: composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, math and natural science, according to “What Will They Learn? 2020–2021” by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

More than 130 institutions got a failing grade.

“The pandemic is upending higher education and forcing families to pay more attention to the value proposition of a collegiate education,”  the council’s president, Michael Poliakoff, said. “Students must be educated to think critically and be prepared to navigate an uncertain career path.”


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“The schools that score well graduate expert learners who are prepared for their first job and ready to confront the new challenges they will face in their fifth or 10th position,” Poliakoff added.

The report also found:

  • 82% of colleges do not require a foundational course in U.S. government or history.
  • 42% do not require a college-level math course.
  • 68% do not require students to study literature.
  • 88% do not require intermediate-level foreign language courses.
  • 97% do not require an economics course.

The council also noted recent studies show liberal arts colleges offer students a high return-on-investment because a well-rounded curriculum fosters the development of critical thinking, communications and inter-cultural skills needs in the modern workplace.

Liberal arts solutions

The report also detailed how various stakeholders can be involved in creating a more well-rounded curriculum:

  • Administrators: A strong general education program can increase quality and decrease costs compared to highly specialized courses during a COVID era where families are experiencing financial constraints.
  • Faculty members: A strong general education program can also be attractive to families focused on the value of their higher ed investment. Faculty can push to prioritize the general ed curriculum over spending on athletic programs and other projects.
  • Alumni and donors: Philanthropy can be steered toward rigorous academic programs.
  • Boards of trustees: These leaders can ensure institutions pay careful attention to graduation rates, cost of attendance and academic quality. Trustees can insist on general education programs with clear and specific requirements.