Many parents believe that where their children attend college is the most important decision a family will make.
So where would you rather send your child: Rhodes College in Memphis, or Johns Hopkins in Baltimore? Colorado State, or Cal-Berkeley? Before you answer, you may want to read a new report titled “The Coming Crisis in Citizenship” from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. (Full disclosure: I serve on ISI’s board of trustees.)
The report, conducted by the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy, is the first to ask whether our institutions of higher education are preparing students for lives as educated and involved citizens of a republic. Researchers asked some 14,000 randomly selected college freshmen and seniors multiple-choice questions about America’s history, government, foreign relations and economy.
The report paints a bleak picture. It found that many of our best-known colleges are failing their students. On average, seniors scored just 1.5 percent better than freshmen did. And had the survey been graded as a test, seniors would have failed; they averaged 53.2 percent.
Even worse, “at many schools, seniors know less than freshman about America’s history, government, foreign affairs and economy,” the study found. Many students are actually regressing while on campus.
Plus, in higher education you don’t necessarily get what you pay for. “Students at relatively inexpensive colleges often learn more, on average, than their counterparts at expensive colleges,” the report says.
ISI found that Rhodes College does the best job teaching about American citizenship. Seniors there answered 11.6 percent more questions correctly than freshmen did. Colorado State was number two, with a 10.9 percent gain. Meanwhile, students at many supposedly top-flight schools seem to lose knowledge while on campus. At Berkeley (49th on the list) seniors scored 5.6 percent worse than freshmen, and at Johns Hopkins (dead last) they were 7.3 percent worse.
Unfortunately, those last two weren’t the only leading schools that failed their students. “Our analysis shows that institutional prestige and selectivity are strongly related to lower civic learning,” the study says. In fact, “colleges that rank high in the U.S. News and World Report 2006 ranking were ranked low in the ISI ranking.”
Overall, of 50 schools surveyed, students regressed at 16 of them. Seniors there “apparently either forgot what is known by their freshman peers or -- more ominously -- were mistaught by their professors.”