Seniors know less than freshmen, new survey indicates





FINDING 1: America's colleges and universities fail to increase knowledge about America's history and institutions, [according to a new study by the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute].

If the survey were administered as an exam in a college course, seniors would fail with an overall average score of 53.2 percent, or F on a traditional grading scale.

Though a university education can cost upwards of $200,000, and college students on average leave campus $19,300 in debt, they are no better off than when they arrived in terms of acquiring the knowledge necessary for informed engagement in a democratic republic and global economy.

FINDING 2: Prestige doesn't pay off.

Colleges that rank high in the U.S. News and World Report 2006 ranking were ranked low in the ISI ranking of learning in these key fields. Specifically, a 1 percent increase in civic learning as measured in our survey corresponded to a decrease of 25 positions in the U.S. News ranking.

There is no relationship between the cost of attending a college and students' acquired understanding of America's history and key institutions. Students at relatively inexpensive colleges often learn more, on average, than their counterparts at expensive colleges.

At many colleges, including Brown, Georgetown, and Yale, seniors know less than freshmen about America's history, government, foreign affairs, and economy. We characterize this phenomenon as "negative learning." A majority of the 16 schools where senior scores were actually lower than freshman scores are considered to be among the most prestigious colleges in the United States.

FINDING 3: Students don't learn what colleges don't teach.
Student learning about America's history and institutions decreases when fewer courses are taken in history, political science, government, and economics.

Schools where students took more courses in American history, political science, and economics outperformed those schools where fewer courses were completed.

Civic learning is significantly greater at schools that require students to take courses in American history, political science, and economics. Student knowledge in these key areas improves significantly at colleges that still value excellent teaching in the classroom.

FINDING 4: Greater civic learning goes hand-in-hand with more active citizenship.

Students who demonstrated greater learning of America's history and institutions were more engaged in citizenship activities such as voting, volunteer community service, and political campaigns.



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