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November 30, 2009 3:00 PM Another College Guide

By Daniel Luzer

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There’s another college guide in the works. The Washington Times reports that:

WhatWillThey Learn.com is an alternative college guide that challenges much of the standard wisdom used for ranking colleges and universities. It was launched recently by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) to address the widespread erosion of rigorous general education requirements. ACTA argues that this plays a significant role in the lack of preparedness among many college graduates.

The ACTA is a conservative organization that aims to “to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus.” Lynn V. Cheney founded ACTA in 1995 as the National Alumni Forum.

The idea of WhatWillThey Learn.com is that most American colleges are not teaching students what they need to be educated, responsible citizens. ACTA rates American colleges on whether or not their students have to take courses in composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. history or government, mathematics, science and economics.

Due to what ACTA sees as incredibly lax course distribution requirements, most schools do not rate very well:

Ironically, top universities that scored poorly recruit many of the nation’s highest achievers. This means many students with the greatest potential are being given a free pass to take a disproportionate number of classes that provide little more than a means for recreation. This arrangement may be popular with young adults, but did parents have this in mind when they signed on to pay $35,000 or more per year?

Of course, this “problem” is kind of made up. No one has ever actually demonstrated that America’s top (or even bottom) schools produce unprepared graduates. Sure, Brown University, which has no distribution requirements and in which every student gets to design his own major, allows a student to major in something like movement therapy. But it’s not clear that students who take that path “will not inherit our nationhood genetically” (in the words of Harry R. Lewis , who wrote an introduction to the new college rating).

Perhaps what is most interesting about this new rating system is that it demonstrates that university rankings are, after all, merely a function of the beliefs one brings to the idea of the university.

WhatWillThey Learn’s top schools, American colleges with the most rigorous distribution requirements, are: Baylor University, City University of New York - Brooklyn College, City University of New York - Hunter College, Texas A&M University, United States Military Academy, University of Arkansas, and the University of Texas - Austin.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer