Breaking Down The ACTA Study

Joseph Evans

Tim Sanford has warned Colgate parents that their children may not be getting the best education at this University; in fact, it may be downright terrible. His evidence? The American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s (ACTA) report on 50 colleges and their core curricula. In ACTA’s study, Colgate received an “F” according to what this organization required for a “liberal-arts” education. Worried that I have not received the best education possible, I decided to check out this report for myself. This report is available online at for any Colgate student, parent, or faculty member to read.ACTA defined a core curriculum as a “set of courses designed for the purposes of general education and required of all students.” ACTA identified seven major categories that fit the definition of a liberal-arts education. These were writing or composition, literature, foreign language, American government or American history, natural or physical science, economics, and mathematics. Colleges in the Big Eight, the Big Ten, the Ivy League, the Seven Sisters, and others were examined if they required these courses and received a grade as such. If one had six or seven courses out of seven, that college received an “A,” and so on. Here is how Colgate fared, and some of the reasons why they did not credit for certain categories.Foreign Language-This subject was the only category for which Colgate received approval from ACTA, which was satisfied by Colgate’s requirement of three years of a foreign language before graduating.Writing/Composition-ACTA did not give Colgate credit for this, since only students who do not perform well on the verbal portion of a standardized test are required to take a writing course.Mathematics-Colgate students are not required to take courses on advanced algebra, trigonometry, calculus, computer programming, or statistics, and therefore Colgate did not get credit for requiring mathematics.Natural/Physical Science-ACTA did not give Colgate credit because the “Scientific Perspectives requirements may be satisfied by courses too narrow to serve as true core courses.”Literature-Apparently, Colgate does not have a required “broad course on literature,” as required by ACTA.American Government/American History-Colgate does not require it.Economics-Colgate does not require it, although exactly zero of the 50 colleges studied required an economics course.While ACTA approved Colgate for just one subject out of seven, our university probably should have gotten credit for a few more. For instance, Colgate does have a writing/composition stipulation, if not a requirement. One can get high enough scores on the verbal/reading portion of the SATs or ACTs to be exempt from this demand, but nevertheless Colgate requires a writing component to the core curriculum. Second, I believe Colgate does have a “broad course on literature” called Western Traditions. The university ensures that every student graduating will have read the Odyssey, the Iliad, parts of the Bible, and other important classical works. Third, I find that requiring courses in American government or history to be too narrow at the collegiate level. A good number of students coming to Colgate have taken Advanced Placement American History, or some other similar course within the last two years of high school. Need I also mention again that no school studied required Economics? After reviewing this study, I find ACTA’s methodology to be limiting, failing to take into account some of the alternatives that individual universities provide.Sanford, in his last letter to the Maroon-News, has threatened the University to withdraw his ten million dollar trust. I do not know what this means for Colgate, but I doubt that Sanford is pulling his support from the University, which he has supported generously in the past, simply because of a study. Obviously, there is great disagreement between the alumni that Sanford represents and the administration over the fraternity situation. I myself being a resident of the apartments and a rare frequenter of the fraternities do not have much of an opinion one way or the other on this matter. However, I feel that this disagreement, and not the supposed problems of Colgate’s curriculum, is the real reason why Sanford has determined that he cannot support this university any longer. While changes certainly could be made to the CORE system, including requiring a laboratory science, I urge Mr. Sanford to reconsider withdrawing his trust from Colgate because he believes that this university does not provide a thorough education. Having spent nearly four years at this university, I have learned much in the core curriculum, but much more outside of it. I have made academic and personal connections to professors, students, and members of the community which I could not find anywhere else, certainly not Baylor University, the only institute of higher learning to receive an “A” in ACTA’s study.