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College Rankings – New Site Offers Different College Ratings Format

Imagine heading to a college ratings/ranking site and viewing the following:

Yale – F
Cornell – F
Johns Hopkins – F
Bowdoin – F

Phelps HallGot your attention? How about:

Penn – D
Harvard – D
Dartmouth – C
Princeton – C

And in contrast:

University of Texas-Austin – A
Baylor University – A
City University of New York – Brooklyn College – A
City University of New York – Hunter College – A

WhatWillTheyLearn.com

Such are the ratings offered at a new web site, WhatWillTheyLearn.com, a new guide that seeks to provide interested students a different lens with which to view America’s top colleges. Focusing in on specific curriculum expectations, the site aims to identify the schools that “are making sure their students learn what they need to know” to be successful upon graduation.

To determine which universities are making sure their students are learning just that, institutions are rated on seven key subjects: English composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics, and science. In addition, the rating examines the specific curriculum within each course as well as who has been assigned to teach that course.

Utilizing that very specific criteria in relation to these seven study areas, schools are then assigned a grade based on how many core subjects students must complete while completing their bachelor degree program. In the case of those schools mentioned above receiving an F, the rating comes from requiring only 0-1 core subjects. For those receiving an A, the rating is equated to the school requiring the completion of 6-7 core subjects.

While the site does also examine college costs, the ratings focus in on what is deemed to be a troubling development in higher education, the fact that these curriculum elements have become “mere options on far too many campuses.”

Liberal Arts School Ratings

Bowdoin CollegeWhatWillTheyLearn.com is sponsored by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an independent, non-profit organization that is a strong supporter of a liberal arts education model. But while focusing on a liberal arts program that features specific general education requirements, it is interesting to see that the site actually provides very poor ratings for many schools deemed the best small liberal arts colleges in America (Amherst, Bowdoin and Middlebury for example).

The reasons for the poor ratings stem from a philosophy that excellent general education programming is about the unity of knowledge and making connections between different ideas and not the combining of random ingredients that marks the curricula offered at these elite colleges today.

Of course, given how poor some of our perceived best schools score on the specific criteria, we can expect some of these colleges and universities to offer their view in the very near future. We can also expect them to find fault with the criteria being used to create the ratings.

But while the specific course expectations seemingly could receive further debate, the concept of the site is a very good one. Given the move towards standards in K-12 education, it stands to reason that higher education would sooner or later become part of such a movement.

Given that development, we would think it was time that college ranking systems measure something other than an institution’s prestige, endowment and reputation. That is where WhatWillTheyLearn.com seeks to go and why it is a site that prospective college students should look at when examining specific schools.

And it seems like an extremely viable endeavor. Taking a look at what students are actually required to learn while earning that diploma certainly ought to figure somewhere into the ratings that have been created.

Flickr photos courtesy of wallyg and Flannery626.

1 comment

1 Rachel { 09.02.09 at 3:29 pm }

I like the idea behind the rating criteria…but how do you make sure that students are not just taking the same Physics course they took in high school? In cases where they learn little to no new information, it could be seen as a waste of precious time and money. But indeed, the well-rounded college model, somewhat unique in the world, theoretically graduates students better able to cope with their future jobs…not to mention future life.

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