Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

College Ranking Focuses on What Students Learn

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

College Ranking Focuses on What Students Learn

Article excerpt

Parents and their high school children have long revered the various college ranking authorities such as fi S. News & World Report, Princeton Review and Piske Guide to Colleges. But a new approach to ranking colleges called What Will They Learn? provides college-bound students with a new way of evaluating the myriad colleges from which to choose.

What Will They Learn? is a project of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an independent, nonprofit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability at America's colleges and universities. Launched in 1995, ACTA works with alumni, donors, trustees and education leaders across the country to "support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives a philosophically rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price."

The premise of ACTA's alternate ranking system is that the best judge of a college's value lies in the schooling its students receive, specifically in seven key areas: English composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and science. Study of these areas is believed to provide the broad-based skills and knowledge students need to succeed in the global marketplace. ACFA wams that students are falling behind their global counterparts when they graduate with significant gaps in their knowledge, which stands to affect our country's future competitiveness and innovation.

Harry R. Lewis, former dean of Harvard College who penned the Dean's Letter on the What Will They Learn? website, offered this insight. "At its best, general education is about the unity of knowledge, not about distributed knowledge. Not about spreading courses around, but about making connections between different ideas. Not about the freedom to combine random ingredients, but about joining an ancient lineage of the learned and wise. And it has a goal, too: producing an enlightened, self-reliant citizenry, pluralistic and diverse but united by democratic values."

"The crisis in higher education is about more than money - it's about what we are paying for. And when it comes to ensuring graduates possess (he basic skills and knowledge they need to succeed, universities are shortchanging students," said ACTA President Anne D. Neal, speaking at the National Press Club. "Since when is do-it-yourself an educational philosophy'?"

Mel Elfin, founding editor of U.S. News & World Report's college rankings, praised the website as "an invaluable and unique additional resource for parents," and The Wall Street Journal called its focus on education "admirable."

What Will They Learn? ranks colleges on how they educate students in the seven key areas:

English Composition - Considered a "fundamental requirement for effective participation in the workplace and civic society," clear and grammatically accurate written communication is a must for today's college graduates. Therefore, schools receiving high marks require students to take a writing class focusing on grammar, style, clarity and argument, one taught by instructors trained to evaluate and teach writing.

literature - Exposure to a variety of literary styles and forms reveals a diversity of human thought and experience that is important in a global society: Careful study of texts also trains students to read attentively as well as analyze and reflect on what they have read, skills that teach students how to think critically Schools receive credit for literature if they require a literature survey course such as British or Latin American literature.

Foreign Language - Operating under the premise that if one can speak another's language, insight and understanding will be heightened as a result of an awareness of different cultural perspectives. In an increasingly interconnected world, competency in a foreign language is also highly prized by employers. …

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