Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says that the federal government needs some accountability for the billions taxpayers pour into university education. That's right, we do; but her plan, to set up a national database to track students, plus a system of testing like those in the No Child Left Behind Act, is not the solution.
The problems Spellings identifies - students transferring to different colleges, dropouts, and the years of time it takes to graduate - are only some of what's wrong with colleges today.
Other important problems include: college tuition is unconscionably inflated, students are not getting their money's worth yet they leave college with an incredibly burdensome debt, colleges are paying high-priced professors to teach worthless courses while at the same time students find it difficult to get into basic courses they need to graduate, students are admitted who are unprepared to do college work, and a high percentage of students attend remedial courses to learn what they should have learned in high school.
Spellings could force improvements in both colleges and high schools if the federal government would refuse college grants and loans for remedial courses so that colleges would admit only those ready to do college-level work.
Even worse, however, is what the colleges don't teach. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has just rendered a national service by releasing a comprehensive study on higher education's failure to teach students about America's history and institutions.
The investigation was based on the premise that today's college students, who will be our nation's future leaders, must have a basic understanding of U.S. history and founding principles if they are to be informed citizens. How can they evaluate the United States' relationship to the rest of the world unless they have a clear vision of the United States' unique identity and how we got where we are?
The results of the institute's multiyear study by eminent academics, who are experienced in the classroom, are depressing. That's why the ISI report is called "The Coming Crisis in Citizenship."
The institute contracted with the University of Connecticut's Department of Public Policy to undertake the largest statistically valid survey ever conducted in order to find out what colleges and universities are teaching their students about U.S. history and institutions. They surveyed 14,000 randomly selected college freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges and universities.
The students were tested with 60 multiple-choice questions to measure their knowledge in four subject areas: U.S. history, U.S. government, America and the world, and the market economy. Freshmen and seniors were given the same test, and here are the results.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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