Rating Criteria

A well-designed general education curriculum equips students for conversations of perennial human concern and provides a foundation in essential aspects of America’s and the world’s political, economic, and scientific systems. What Will They Learn?® rates institutions with a stated liberal arts mission on how many of seven core subjects are required in their general education programs. The subjects are: Composition, Literature, (intermediate-level) Foreign Language, U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics, and Natural Science. The grade is based on a detailed examination of the latest publicly available online course catalogs or college websites at the time of review.

If a subject is merely one of several options (as is often the case with “distribution requirements”), or if a subject is optional for students in either the B.A. or B.S. program, the college or university does not receive credit. The intent is always to determine what institutions require of all their students in liberal arts programs and not what they merely offer or suggest. What Will They Learn?® also does not grant credit for a subject if the institution uses SAT or ACT scores to exempt students from coursework, since an examination of high school-level skills should not be used to fulfill collegiate requirements.

ACTA’s Council of Scholars

ACTA’s Council of Scholars is composed of national experts in a range of liberal arts disciplines. The council sets appropriate standards and criteria for What Will They Learn?® and has defined competency in each of the seven subjects as follows:

ACTA's Council of Scholars

An introductory college writing class focusing on appropriate expository style. 

Remedial courses and SAT/ACT scores may not be used to satisfy a Composition requirement. University-administered exams or portfolios are acceptable only when they are used to determine exceptional pre-college preparation for students. Writing-intensive courses, “writing across the curriculum” seminars, and writing for a discipline are not acceptable unless there is an indication of clear provisions for multiple writing assignments, instructor feedback, revision and resubmission of student writing, and explicit language concerning the mechanics of formal writing, including such elements as grammar, sentence structure, coherence, and documentation.

A comprehensive literature survey or a selection of courses of which a clear majority are surveys and the remainder are literary in nature (as opposed to literary criticism or film studies). 

Single-author or theme-based courses count. Freshman seminars, humanities sequences, or other specialized courses that include a substantial literature survey component are also appropriate.

Competency at the intermediate level, defined as at least three semesters of college-level study in any foreign language.

This requirement must apply to all liberal arts degrees, without distinction between B.A. and B.S. degrees, or individual majors within these degrees.

Credit also is awarded to schools that require two semesters each of college-level study in two different ancient languages. 

A survey course in either U.S. government or history with enough chronological and topical breadth to expose students to the sweep of American history and institutions.

Generally, narrow, niche courses do not count for the requirement, nor do courses that only focus on a limited chronological period or a specific state or region.

State- or university-administered, and/or state-mandated, exams are accepted for credit on a case-by-case basis depending upon the rigor required.

A course covering basic economic principles, generally an introductory micro- or macroeconomics or political economy course, taught by faculty from the economics or business department.

Courses discussing the history of economic thought are strongly encouraged.

A college-level course in mathematics. Specific topics may vary, but must involve study beyond the level of intermediate algebra or basic statistics, and cover topics beyond those typical of a college-preparatory high school curriculum.

Remedial courses or SAT/ACT scores may not be used as substitutes.

Courses in formal or symbolic logic, computer science with programming, and linguistics involving formal analysis count.

A course in astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, physical geography, physics, or environmental science, preferably with a laboratory component.

Overly narrow courses, courses with weak scientific content, and courses taught by faculty outside of the natural science departments do not count.

Psychology courses count if they are focused on the biological, chemical, or neuroscientific processes studied in the discipline.

Grading Methodology

With the above criteria in mind, What Will They Learn?® assigns grades based on how many of these seven subjects students are required to complete. If a core course is an option among other courses that did not meet the What Will They Learn?® criteria for a certain subject, the institution does not receive credit for that subject. Credit is given only for what an institution requires of its students, not what it merely recommends.

Half credit. If a requirement exists from which students choose between otherwise qualifying courses within two What Will They Learn® subject areas (e.g., math or science; history or economics, etc.), one-half credit is given for both subjects (with both halves totaling one whole subject).

The grading system is as follows:

7 core subjects required

6 core subjects required

5 core subjects required

4 core subjects required

3 core subjects required

2 core subjects required