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EDUCATION REPORT - College Guide Aims to Help Students Avoid a 'Thin Education'

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

A new college guide in the United States compares educational requirements in seven subjects. These include math, science, writing and United States history or government. The other subjects are economics, foreign language and literature.

Classes in the sciences are part of a liberal arts education
Classes in the sciences are part of a liberal arts education

The free online guide is from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. The council is a nonprofit group that supports liberal arts education.

Its president, Anne Neal, says these areas of knowledge are needed to succeed in a twenty-first century society and an increasingly connected world. Yet she told VOA's Faiza Elmasry it was surprising how many students can graduate with, in her words, a "thin education."

Forty-two of the one hundred colleges and universities surveyed received the lowest marks. This meant they required two or fewer of the seven subjects. Five schools received a top grade for requiring six subjects. These were Brooklyn College in New York City, Texas A&M, the University of Texas-Austin, West Point and the University of Arkansas.

Robert Costrell is a professor of education reform and economics at the University of Arkansas. He says many, if not all, of the top American colleges once had a core curriculum -- a set of courses required for all students.

But over the years, many have dropped these requirements. Or they have "watered them down," Professor Costrell says, into what became known as distribution requirements. This system lets a student choose from a number of different courses to satisfy a requirement.

ROBERT COSTRELL: "And in many cases these courses went too far, I would say, towards the fluffy treatment of serious material, and students could satisfy their requirement by taking such courses."

Professor Costrell says schools should not only re-examine what they teach. They should also measure what students have learned -- for example, through some form of examinations or papers.

A new report this week from the College Board showed that college prices continue to rise. But Anne Neal from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni says higher prices do not guarantee a better general education. In fact, the group found that the higher the tuition, the more likely that students have to develop their own general education.

The college guide is on the Web at whatwilltheylearn.com. Anne Neal says her group is surveying more colleges. The hope, she says, is to discover what college graduates have really learned, and how ready they are to compete in the global marketplace.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. I'm Steve Ember.

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