Which colleges provide the best general education?

Which school can offer you a better general education? Harvard, Stanford University or Midwestern State University? According to a new study by the nonprofit American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA): Midwestern State.

The nonprofit looked at 714 four-year universities, and rated each institution based on whether they require seven core subjects that it determined necessary to compete in the global marketplace and gain a well-rounded education. Those subjects are: composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics, and natural or physical science. It analyzed each institution's commitment to the core subjects and published the results on the website What Will They Learn?, where visitors can compare public and private universities throughout the U.S.

From the What Will They Learn? website: "What we found is alarming. Even as our students need broad-based skills and knowledge to succeed in the global marketplace, our colleges are failing to deliver. Topics like U.S. government or history, literature, mathematics, and economics have become mere options on far too many campuses. Not surprisingly, students are graduating with great gaps in their knowledge--and employers are noticing. If not remedied, this will have significant consequences for U.S. competiveness and innovation."

Anne Neal, ACTA's president, says colleges and universities have allowed their general education to become "anything goes," which is a disservice to students who pay thousands of dollars for a good education.

ACTA launched the website to help parents and students determine what really matters: what they will be expected to learn.

Critics of the report say it doesn't look at what students actually learn -- just at whether the college or university requires certain courses, and that it's based on old-fashioned ideas about the most important subjects and how they should be taught. But the group behind the report says it gives parents and students another tool in choosing the right college.

Of the more than 700 colleges and universities graded, only 16 got top marks, while 103 earned an "F."

So what schools are at the top of the class with an "A" grade?

The following universities earned "A's:"

  • Baylor University
  • City University of New York - Brooklyn College
  • East Tennessee State University
  • Kennesaw State University
  • Lamar University
  • Midwestern State University
  • St. John's College (MD)
  • St. John's College (NM)
  • Tennessee State University
  • Texas A&M University - College Station
  • Texas A&M University - Corupus Christi
  • Thomas Aquinas College
  • United States Air Force Academy
  • United States Military Academy
  • University of Arkansas - Fayettville
  • University of Dallas

Find out what your local university scored by visiting the What Will They Learn? website and check out Amy Scott's story on the study.

About the author

Daryl Paranada is the associate web producer for Marketplace overseeing all daily website content and production, as well as producing multimedia features -- including the popular economic explainer series Whiteboard -- and special projects. Follow him on Twitter @darylparanada.

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