Survey Reveals ‘Alarming’ Civic Literacy Crisis Among College Graduates

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 14, 2011, AT 12:01 A.M. EDT - FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 file picture, students attend graduation ceremonies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The number of borrowers defaulting on federal student loans has jumped sharply, the latest indication that …
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College graduates are responsible, in part, for a “knowledge crisis” regarding basic civic literacy in the United States, according to a recent survey that revealed “alarming results.” For example, less than half of college graduates surveys knew the term lengths of U.S. Senators and Representatives.

recent survey has uncovered “alarming results” which point to “a crisis in civic understanding and the urgent need for a renewed focus on civics education at the postsecondary level,” according to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), which commissioned the survey.

Among the results, 18 percent of respondents selecting Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) as the author of The New Deal — a series of programs and regulations that had actually been enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. Among college graduates, 12 percent selected Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.

Moreover, 26 percent of respondents selected Brett Kavanaugh as the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, while 14 percent selected Antonin Scalia, who passed away in 2016. Among those respondents, 15 percent of college graduates selected Brett Kavanaugh, with less than half of respondents correctly selecting John Roberts.

The survey, entitled, “America’s Knowledge Crisis: A Survey on Civic Literacy,” also noted that 63 percent of respondents did not know the term lengths of U.S. Senators and Representatives, with less than half of college graduates selecting the correct answer.

Additionally, an alarming 12 percent of respondents surveyed understood the relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, with only 19 percent of college graduates selecting the correct answer.

“Colleges have the responsibility to prepare students for a lifetime of informed citizenship,” said the president of ACTA, Michael Poliakoff. “Our annual What Will They Learn? report illustrates the steady deterioration of the core curriculum.”

“When American history and government courses are removed, you begin to see disheartening survey responses like these, and America’s experiment in self-government begins to slip from our grasp.” he added.

ACTA says that its annual What Will They Learn? report, “uniquely assesses the core academic requirements at 1,123 four-year institutions that together enroll more than eight million undergraduate students,” and that it scores the institutions based on whether they require all students to take courses in seven “priority subject areas.”

According to the organization, only 22 institutions earned an “A” for core curriculum requirements, and 137 schools failed. “While most universities require students to take courses in composition and the natural sciences, curricular gaps are common everywhere else,” said ACTA in a statement.

82% do not require students to take a foundational course in U.S. government or history.
43% do not require students to take a college-level mathematics course.
68% do not require students to study literature.
88% do not require intermediate-level foreign language courses.
97% do not require a course in economics.

“It’s not surprising that public confidence in higher education is falling,” said Poliakoff. “Amidst all the fanfare about the release of the latest college rankings this week, there is not a peep about ill-informed citizens, often underprepared for the workforce, who are graduating from our colleges and universities with mountains of student debt.”

“By focusing on resource inputs, admissions selectivity, and institutional reputation, the major rankings systems drive costs up but show little interest in what students learn — or don’t learn,” he added.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo and on Instagram.

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