There is a growing perception among some parents and students that colleges and universities are not doing the job they once did. These beliefs often are fed by stories reporting the results of some study proclaiming that students today graduate with fewer skills than those in the past. One such study is the recent report by the National Association of Scholars.
This reportn surveyed catalogues from 50 of the country's best known colleges and universities to determine if c course requirements are less stringent than in the past. The authors found that the number of required courses in specific fields - fields that they believe to be fundamental to a basic college education - has declined over time.
The study reported, for example, that math and science requirements have been weakened by colleges. In 1964, the report said 36 percent of the schools surveyed required at least one course in mathematics. By 1993, that number had dropped to only 12 percent. Over this same period, the number of colleges requiring at least one natural science course fell to 34 percent from 90 percent. Foreign language requirements also have deteriorated. What has increased is the degree of choice that students have over free electives. Leaving aside the question of what constitutes a college-level course 50 years ago compared to today, the conclusion drawn in the report is that students today face a less rigorous curriculum than ever before. Does current undergraduate education shortchange students compared to those of the past? What should parents, students and state legislators make of this and similar reports? Although the results of the report will undoubtedly make for political fodder in this election year, we do not think that it is an accurate depiction of what is really going on in most colleges and universities. Our experience in the School of Business at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville is one of ongoing improvement and development of the curriculum. Discussions with colleagues at a wide variety of universities around the country show a similar development. Some years ago, the undergraduate curriculum of our business school underwent a significant change. Contrary to popular wisdom, course requirements for business majors were not weakened. In fact, the opposite is true: The changes made broadened the existing foundation of core courses and stiffened requirements for graduation. …