Wait! Before you send your child off proudly to the University of Washington this fall, there’s something you should know. Only half of University of


This Just In: College Students Don't Know Everything About Everything

And some schools are better than others.


Wait! Before you send your child off proudly to the University of Washington this fall, there’s something you should know. Only half of University of Washington seniors could correctly answer obscure questions about American history and economics when asked by a survey that they had no impetus for doing well on. Central Washington University Professor Matthew Manweller blames “left-leaning academics spend[ing] so much time teaching a self-loathing of American culture and institutions that their students know less about their country than when they came in as freshmen.” Well that is certainly one opinion, another being just another example of poor use of polling data.  

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute surveyed 14,000 freshman and seniors at 25 randomly selected colleges and universities and 25 of what it deems “elite” American institutions, on questions from specific points of American history and the wording of the Declaration of Independence. This conservatively bent group considers a failure only based on the difference in scores between the two classes.

The study deems UC Berkeley, MIT, Yale and Johns Hopkins among the top “failure” schools because of their seniors scoring less on the survey than their freshman, a trend they call “negative learning.” The study fails to recognize, however, that these “elite” schools all have overall the top averages in scores of anywhere from 60-70% correct. Whereas the lesser known schools that ISI praises for increasing student knowledge by 6-10 percentage points, may have added those points to a school that only scored 24% correct in the first place. Instead of focusing on the “lack” of education learned in college on knowledge they consider “basic civic literacy,” why not look to the place where you are supposed to learn “the basics”?

Dr. Gary Scott, Senior Research Fellow at ISI, claims the survey is correct for blaming college instead of K-12 education. “Since we test freshman by the beginning of their college experience, we conclude that their knowledge is what they got in K-12 education. So they came in and answered 51.7 % correct, which is a failure. So high school failed them, but if we have to assign blame then college is more to blame because colleges add less knowledge per year than K-12 did.”

Never mind that college is supposed to be reserved for a deeper understanding of a major of your choice—that you pay for—they should be forcing certain subjects that this group deems important down the throats of every college student (that has most certainly already learned these dry facts numerous times at an elementary level). Certainly if ISI chose to survey only political science majors the numbers would have been vastly different, just as testing all college students on Discrete Mathematics would show only people with an interest, or majoring, in math as successful. 

University of Washington, which ranked smack in the middle of the survey at 26th, by ISI’s count (just below Harvard mind you), is now about to find itself thrown into the fire because of a grant given from ISI to Washington Policy Center to help spread knowledge of the results of this survey—well, maybe. WPC, a group who is honoring Jeb Bush at their annual fundraising dinner this year, is supposed to be using the $5,000 grant to release this information to the public. According to Paul Guppy, Vice President of Research at WPC, “we think that most tax payers in this state would be astounded that students in Washington colleges and universities aren’t learning basic civics. If they did learn them in high school that would be great too, but this is sort of their last chance before they launch off in life. The people of Washington expect there [to be] a basic standard of knowledge, which includes civics that students are learning at these schools before they go on to be citizens in society.” 

WPC wants to raise awareness in order to get UW to adopt more specific core requirements, and to hold them “accountable” next time they ask for money from the state. Even though WPC has sent out Manweller’s op-ed in one press release packet to newspapers in the Seattle area, it doesn’t seem they have done much else. The administration at UW has yet to even hear the official results of the survey administered at their own school over a year ago. UW’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Ed Taylor states by e-mail: “[I] can not seem find to anyone with knowledge of this survey. Nor do we have any information about the results.” 

They are probably too busy scheming up ways to teach the incoming freshman class to loathe American culture to the point that they will forget everything they learned in their junior year American history class. And don't worry, even more useless information is promised to be released September 18th on a survey of even MORE college students who don't know it all.

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