NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Colleges Don't Require History

November 27, 2001

A survey by the Roper organization for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni reveals just how little history students are asked to study today even at the highest-ranked colleges and universities.

  • Just three of the top-ranked 55 schools -- Columbia, Colgate and the University of the South -- require a course in Western civilization.
  • None of the 55 requires a course in American history. Some do have history "requirements," but a student can satisfy them by completing a high school history course or a nonhistory college-level course.
  • At Berkeley, students who earned a C or better in high school history are exempt.
  • At M.I.T., students can satisfy the historical studies "requirement" by taking a course in Environmental Politics and Policy.

This helps explain why the college seniors queried by Roper in an earlier Council survey had so much trouble with even the most basic history questions.

  • No more than 22 percent had any idea that "government of the people, by the people, for the people" came from the Gettysburg Address.
  • More than half could not identify the Constitution as the source of the separation of powers.
  • Just four out of 10 seniors could identify the Battle of the Bulge as having taken place in World War II.
  • Only 34 percent knew George Washington was the general commanding the Americans at Yorktown -- whereas 37 percent thought it might be Ulysses S. Grant.

Given students' increased interest in world affairs and American history since Sept. 11, observers suggest that it is time to provide young Americans with a serious education in their history and civilization.

Source: Editorial, "The Pilgrims' Magna Carta," Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2001.

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