As high school seniors begin applying to colleges, the college rating system and website “What Will They Learn?” has graded universities across the nation based on the quality of their general education requirements – and the results are not good for UC Davis.
“What Will They Learn?” a project of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), gave UC Davis an ‘F’, based on its failure to require more than one of the seven core subjects identified by researchers as most crucial to a quality education.
Of the seven core subjects, only foreign language was deemed a satisfactory requirement.
No credit was given for composition because students can test out of entry-level writing through SAT or ACT scores. The U.S. Government or History requirement can also be avoided through high school study. Since science and mathematics are included in the same topical breadth requirement, one or the other may be avoided. The study also found that no literature or economics are included in general education.
The researchers behind the ratings maintain that universities must guide their students towards broad subjects that will prepare them for life after college. Schools that did not receive passing grades may not be mandating that students take a wide enough variety of classes.
“An 18-year-old freshman is not in a position to build his or her own curriculum. What I hear a lot is, well, I’m paying for these classes and I should take whatever I want. The difficulty is that you may not realize at the time what you actually need,” said David Azerrad, senior researcher for the ACTA. “It may turn out that once you graduate, you realize that you have very poor writing skills, and it would have been a good idea if you had a composition course, and so on with the other subjects we look at.”
Patricia Turner, vice-provost for undergraduate studies, agrees that UC Davis may have relatively few requirements that some students may test out of, but said that this demonstrates the university’s respect for students’ accomplishments. She argues that it is a better use of financial and academic resources to allow advanced students to test out of certain requirements and focus more on their major.
“For students majoring in the humanities and arts, if they have already demonstrated high math abilities just to get here, there’s no academic reason to require, for example, a history major to take advanced calculus,” Turner said in an e-mail interview. “For those students who select majors that will require more advanced skills, we certainly do have requirements integral to those majors for those subject areas.”
But to Azzerad, college is a time for broadening horizons and becoming citizens well-versed in several areas of study. It is up to the university to ensure that students graduate with an understanding of the core subjects examined in the study, he said.
“College is kind of a gray area between being a kid and an adult, so if you assume you want more fully the responsibilities of citizenship, look to the rest of your life to think of why these subjects will matter,” Azzerad said. “And that’s why the universities are in a much better position to require these subjects. They are the adults, and they are the ones who are educating them.”
UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz also received F’s. UCLA, UC Merced, UC Riverside and UC San Diego received C’s. Sacramento State University, however, received a B.
Senior economics and technocultural studies double major Arnel Cruz was not entirely surprised to hear about the rating. As a student of liberal studies, he feels he is labeled an elitist by his peers for expressing an interest in liberal subjects, and questioned the ability of UC Davis’ general education courses to teach students to think outside the box.
“I feel that most general education classes at Davis are more about basic review of high school classes, but the true general education courses should focus on what UC Davis – a liberal studies institution – should focus on, which is liberal studies,” Cruz said. “At the end of our college experience, we should all come out with ideas on how to change the system, not just work within it. That’s what general education courses should cover: getting high school students to learn things outside what they were stuck with prior to college.”
In other college rating systems, UC Davis was ranked 306 on Forbes’ America’s Best Colleges and 39 on U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges rankings.
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.