ACTA’s 2014 “What Will They Learn” Rankings

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has released its annual ranking of American colleges and universities. The ranking purport to reflect what students will learn at the institutions: specifically, whether they will be required to take core courses in composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. history, economics, mathematics, and science.

An article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer provides this summary of the results: “Of the 1,098 institutions studied, 23 received an ‘A,’ 389 received a ‘B,’ 329 received a ‘C,’ 259 received a ‘D’ and 98 received an ‘F.’” [The full article in the Plain Dealer is available at:

Although institutions that generally rank high in national surveys might not necessarily rank high in all surveys, if a particular ranking seems an inversion of most other rankings, it should probably be somewhat suspect. Even a glance at the ACTA rankings for Ohio would seem to justify some skepticism about ACTA’s rankings. Some of the most prestigious private institutions in the state have received F’s, while some institutions that probably have little name recognition not just outside of the state but even in other parts of the state have received B’s.


Ashland University: D
Baldwin Wallace University: C
Bluffton University: C
Bowling Green State University: C
Capital University: F
Case Western Reserve University: F
Cedarville University: B
Central State University: B
Cleveland State University: C
College of Wooster: F
Defiance College: B
Denison University: D
Franciscan University of Steubenville: B
Hiram College: F
John Carroll University: D
Kent State University: C
Kenyon College: F
Miami University: C
Oberlin College: F
Ohio Dominican University: C
Ohio Northern University: C
Ohio State University: C
Ohio University: D
Ohio Wesleyan University: D
Otterbein University: C
Shawnee State University: D
Tiffin University: C
University of Akron: B
University of Cincinnati: C
University of Dayton: C
University of Toledo: B
Walsh University: F
Wilberforce University: D
Wittenberg University: C
Wright State University: D
Xavier University: B
Youngstown State University: C


In addition, the criteria for the rankings seems dubious. To illustrate, I will focus on my own institution, Wright State University, which received a D because it requires—according to ACTA—core courses in only composition and science.

But here is an overview of the core-eduction requirements at Wright State:


  1. Communication
One first-year writing course (3 hr)
One second-year writing course (3 hr)
  1. Mathematics
One Core math course 3
  1. Global Traditions
One interdisciplinary Global Studies course (3 hr)
One history course (3 hr)
  1. Arts/ Humanities
One course 3
  1. Social Science
Two courses from different social science categories 6
  1. Natural Science
Two lecture/lab science courses 8
Additional Core Courses Two Core courses from any of the Elements 6
Total 12 courses 38


You can see from the chart that we clearly require students to complete a course in mathematics. Moreover, literature courses (Great Books, Nonwestern Literatures) are among the most popular courses offered to meet the Arts/Humanities and Global Traditions requirements. Likewise, several economics courses can be taken to fulfill the social sciences requirements. So, instead of being required to complete just two of the seven core-education courses on which ACTA is basing these rankings, most students at Wright State will actually complete all but two of those courses.

ACTA purports to stand for preserving liberal arts education and academic freedom. In the latter mission, it has clearly positioned itself as an alternative to the AAUP. But its record on that score is as dubious as these rankings. Clearly the two associations do not define academic freedom in the same way. And clearly, ACTA’s conception of a high-quality liberal arts education requires a definition of “liberal” that permits failing or near-failing grades for prestigious institutions generally considered to promote liberal or progressive values–most notably on the list of Ohio institutions, Oberlin, Kenyon, Denison, and Wooster.


3 thoughts on “ACTA’s 2014 “What Will They Learn” Rankings

  1. ACTA’s bizarre definition of a liberal arts education is predicated on the existence of a “core curriculum” of specific required courses in specified areas, preferably ones that they can construe to advance a “traditional” education. Wright State’s “menu” program of general education, a model widespread among state institutions (including my own) and often necessitated by the diversity of our student bodies and the requirements of transfer, does not measure up to their inflexible “standard.” Apparently, a student’s ability to choose from among a variety of liberal arts courses is in ACTA’s weird world antithetical to liberal education, which should, apparently, in their view be strictly prescribed for all students in advance — perhaps by them.

  2. In my own town, Amherst College gets an F. Really? And the university where I teach, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, gets a D. ACTA claims we do not require literature, language, government/history, economics, or math courses. In fact, we require students to take a course in Historical Studies (some courses are outside the history department, but they are reviewed to ensure they have a serious historical component), a year of foreign language, a course in quantitative reasoning, and a course in Arts and Literature. Economics is not required but it’s an option in the Social World general education component. Either ACTA had an incompetent intern generate the data for this report, or there’s an ideological component involved.

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