A guide to what college rankings don't tell you.

The Knowledge Crisis

Do colleges and universities live up to their promise of an education that prepares graduates not only for the first job, but for the innovations and challenges that lie ahead? Will these graduates understand their role in addressing issues that citizens and community leaders inevitably face? Too often the answer is no, despite the bold vision to be found in college catalogues and public statements. 

“If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”
—George Orwell

The knowledge crisis represents the breakdown of higher education’s promise. Employers routinely complain that college graduates are ill-prepared for the workforce. Surveys of college students and recent graduates reveal an ignorance of the institutions and history of our free society. A rigorous core curriculum can help address these problems, since poor student outcomes are due largely to the erosion of general education programs at American colleges and universities.

One recent survey found that only 42% of employers think recent graduates are proficient in oral and written communication, and fewer still, about 21%, were satisfied with graduates’ “intercultural fluency.” Recent studies have shown that many students, even graduates of elite institutions, fail to improve their critical thinking abilities while in college—the skill employers rank as their top priority in a new hire. As for civic knowledge, it is hard to imagine Americans have ever known less about their country. A 2018 national survey found that only 36% of Americans would pass the U.S. Citizenship Test.

“There is little that is more important for an American citizen to know than the history and traditions of his country. Without such knowledge, he stands uncertain and defenseless before the world, knowing neither where he has come from nor where he is going. With such knowledge, he is no longer alone but draws a strength far greater than his own from the cumulative experience of the past and a cumulative vision of the future.”
—John F. Kennedy

ACTA Resources

Recent publications cover the significant knowledge gaps of college students.

The Unkindest Cut: Shakespeare in Exile 2015 The Unkindest Cut: Shakespeare in Exile 2015 reveals that only four undergraduate English programs at U.S. News & World Report’s top 25 national universities and top 25 liberal arts colleges require a course in Shakespeare.
No U.S. History? How College History Departments Leave the United States out of the Major No U.S. History? How College History Departments Leave the United States out of the Major demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of America’s most prestigious schools do not require even history majors to take a single course on U.S. history or government.
A Crisis in Civic Education A Crisis in Civic Education shows that in survey after survey recent college graduates are alarmingly ignorant of American history and government. In one survey, 10% of four-year graduates thought Judith Sheindlin—“Judge Judy”—was on the Supreme Court.


Take one of ACTA’s quizzes to test your knowledge! Full reports are included in the links to see the results and how you compare against others.

“In times of great national security challenges, such as those we face today, as well as in times of great opportunity, such as the opening of new international markets, we find ourselves scrambling for people who can speak, write, and think in languages other than English.”
—Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA