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Just seven colleges get ‘A+’ for core curriculum from higher ed reform group


Colleges with ‘clear sense of mission’ often ‘perform quite well’

Seven colleges received a perfect score for their core curriculum, according to a higher education reform group.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni added an “A+” score to its “What Will They Learn” grades for the first time in the 15-year history of its report card. Of the seven colleges, four are Catholic, one is Orthodox Christian, one is Protestant, and another is a public university in Virginia.

Those seven schools are: “Christopher Newport University, Patrick Henry College, Thomas Aquinas College in California, Thomas Aquinas College in Massachusetts, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, the University of Dallas, and the University of Saint Katherine,” according to the latest rating.

Patrick Henry College is Protestant, while the University of Saint Katherine is Orthodox.

The group’s vice president of policy commented on why Catholic and Protestant schools were most of the highly rated colleges.

“There are likely two reasons that Catholic and Christian schools receive high What Will They Learn? grades,” Bradley Jackson told The College Fix via a media statement.

“Liberal arts education has long been a hallmark of Catholic and Christian education in the United States and abroad, and the What Will They Learn? system evaluates universities on their requirements in the liberal arts,” Jackson stated. “We also find that institutions with a clear sense of mission, which religious institutions often have, perform quite well in our rating system.”

ACTA grades colleges on “seven essential subject areas” which are, according to Jackson, “Composition, Literature, intermediate-level Foreign Language, U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics, and Natural Science. ‘A+’ institutions require all B.A. and B.S.-seeking students to take all seven of these subject areas at the college level.”

Public institutions, on the whole, perform better than private colleges, according to Jackson.

He said 35 percent of public universities “receive grades of ‘B’ or higher,” whereas only 27 percent of private universities do.

“Although only one of our ‘A+’ schools is public, we find that many public schools reviewed do prioritize robust liberal arts requirements for undergraduate students,” Jackson stated.

Christopher Newport University in Virginia is one of the public schools that prioritizes the liberal arts.

It deferred to a news release when asked by The Fix for further comment.

“Christopher Newport’s innovative core curriculum and rigorous academic standards have once again earned the highest grade possible,” the university stated in a news release.

“Christopher Newport’s Liberal Learning Core Curriculum comprises a minimum of 40 semester hours of coursework, and includes Liberal Learning Foundations and Areas of Inquiry,” the university stated. “This comprehensive program of study develops students’ capacities of empowerment, knowledge and responsibility.”

Thomas Aquinas College, which received an A+ for both its California and Massachusetts campuses, said the grade is “a much-appreciated acknowledgment of the depth and rigor of the College’s program of Catholic liberal education.”

Spokesman Chris Weinkopf told The Fix the school is “grateful for this recognition of the hard work that our faculty and students joyfully undertake, inspired by their shared love for learning and the truth.”

Editor’s note: The article has been updated to clarify the University of Saint Katherine is Orthodox, not CatholicDue to a mistake on ACTA’s website, the article initially stated the What Will They Learn tool began in 1995. It began in 2009.

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Eleanor Blair is a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville studying Humanities and Catholic Culture.