- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A national study conducted at some of America’s top universities shows that many undergraduate students — even those at prestigious Ivy League schools — are woefully uninformed on the most basic lessons of American history.

Students surveyed from 50 colleges averaged a failing grade of 54.2 percent on the 60-question test, and even seniors at Harvard University, the highest scorers, achieved a meager 69 percent average, a D-plus on most grading scales.

The study, released by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) as part of the American Civic Literacy Program, critiqued the universities on their work in educating students in four major subject areas: American history, government, world relations and the market economy.

The study found that many top universities “stall” their students’ progress in areas of civic education, showing that incoming freshmen often know nearly as much as, and sometimes more than, their seniors. Freshmen at Cornell, Yale, Duke and Princeton all scored better than the seniors.

Gary Scott, a senior research fellow in civic literacy, worries that these top universities don’t sufficiently advance their students’ civic knowledge.

“Colleges are producing the leadership for America’s future,” he told a press conference yesterday.

The survey, which involved participation of roughly 14,000 students and was conducted by the University of Connecticut’s public policy department, found that state universities produced the greatest improvement in students’ civic scores during their undergraduate years.

Universities must do “a better job of educating a new generation of Americans,” said Josiah Bunting III, chairman of ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board, adding that “a serious and fruitful discussion” is necessary if universities are to improve.

“Our goal is not to tear down American higher education,” said Eugene Hickok, a member of the ISI board. “It’s to hold it accountable.”

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