NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 27, 2006

Colleges and universities across the United States -- including some of the most expensive in the country -- are failing to educate students about the nation's history and essential institutions, which is leading to a "coming crisis in citizenship," a study of more than 14,000 randomly selected students at 50 schools shows.

Among the findings:

  • There is trivial difference between freshmen and seniors in their knowledge of America's heritage.
  • Sixteen of 50 schools surveyed exhibited negative learning.
  • Overall, seniors failed the civic literacy exam with an average score of 53 percent.

Other findings:

  • Less than half of the college seniors surveyed recognized the phrase, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," as originating from the Declaration of Independence.
  • Roughly 80 percent of college seniors were unaware that the federal government's largest payout is for social security.
  • Even with their country at war in Iraq, fewer than half of the seniors (45.2 percent) could identify the Baath Party as the main source of Saddam Hussein's political support; in fact, 12.2 percent believed that Hussein found his most reliable supporters in the Communist Party, and almost 5.7 percent said Israel.

To improve undergraduate learning about America's history and institutions, the authors recommend:

  • Improving assessment of learning outcomes at the college and university level.
  • Increasing the number of required history, political science and economics courses.
  • Holding higher education more accountable to its mission and fundamental responsibilities to prepare its students to be informed and engaged participants in a democratic republic.
  • Better informing students and their parents, as well as public officials and taxpayers, of a given university's performance in teaching America's history and institutions.

Source: Randy Hall, "Higher Education Causing 'Crisis in Citizenship,' Study Shows,", September 26, 2006; based upon: "The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education's Failure to Teach America's History and Institutions," Intercollegiate Studies Institute, October 2, 2006.

For study text:


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