On the report "On the general education requirements at 100 of the Nation's Leading Colleges and Universities

Oliver Knill, August 25, 2009

Here are three citations from that report. I personally agree that in higher education, it is too easy to graduate without enough mathematical background. This is amplified by below average precollege math scores( [TIMSS], [PISA]).



A report [PDF] on the general education requirements at 100 of the Nation's Leading Colleges and Universities by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) had been discussed by Stanley Fish in the New York Times, mainly focusing on the writing abilities. Here are some citations from this report which concern mathematics or Harvard. From the introduction of the report:

"What we found is alarming. Even as our students need broad-based skills and knowledge to succeed in the global marketplace, our colleges and universities are failing to deliver. Topics like U.S. government or history, literature, mathematics, and economics have become mere options on far too many campuses. Not surprisingly, students are graduating with great gaps in their knowledge-and employers are noticing. If not remedied, this will have significant consequences for U.S. competitiveness and innovation.
Higher education used to uphold academic standards against outside pressure. Today, however, the pressure to dumb things down often comes from inside. As a consequence, we now have what former University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins called "education by the adding machine," where academics refuse to decide what is important, leaving students to fend for themselves. But education cannot be left to chance."
A citation about Mathematics on page 21:

"Understanding math and science is essential to survival in the modern world, not to mention global competitiveness, but our colleges and universities are doing little to advance that understanding. The National Survey of America's College Students found that 20 percent of college graduates could not "estimate if their car has enough gasoline to get to the next gas station or calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies." This should be no surprise given the fact that a whopping 70 percent of our top National Universities and Liberal Arts Colleges do not require mathematics. Meanwhile, more than half of the Liberal Arts Colleges and 40 percent of the National Universities surveyed allow students to graduate without any exposure to hard science.
Of course, this ignorance is of more than academic interest; in a rapidly changing world, it also puts us at a serious competitive disadvantage. When done well, a strong general education introduces students to a wide range of subjects in order to whet their appetite for more advanced and specialized work. At a time when policymakers clamor for increased student participation in math and science, the failure of our colleges and universities to insist on exposure in these areas inevitably undermines any efforts to draw more students to these essential subjects."
100 colleges and universities are ranked on a scale from A to F based on whether students are required to take courses in seven key areas - composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and natural or physical science. A citation about Harvard on Page 34:

"Harvard University: No credit given for Foreign Language because only one year of a language is required. No credit given for U.S. Government or History because the United States in the World requirement is made up of niche courses. No credit given for Mathematics because courses with little college level math content-such as "Fat Chance," a course billed in its description as "not mathematically demanding"-may be used to fulfill the Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning requirement."
Comment: The judgment on the Harvard situation might be too premature since the GenEd change just starts to be implemented here and the judgment is based on course description. In the core curriculum (the predecessor of GenEd), the corresponding course had been quite demanding.