CU students place fourth, CSU comes in second
CU is known as one of the “Public Ivies.” A recent study conducted by the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy and the nonprofit education organization Intercollegiate Studies Institute shows CU students even rank above those attending the nation’s Ivy League schools in some fields.
The study tested 14,000 freshmen and senior students from 50 colleges around the nation on basic knowledge of government, politics and history- what the study claims is essential civic knowledge. It was discovered that CU and CSU student’s ranked in the top 10, at 4th and 2nd, respectively, and Ivy leaguers Brown, Cornell and Yale placed in the bottom 10, at 47th, 48th and 44th.
According to the civic literacy report, the results showcase a crisis for college students, the nation’s future leaders. The study declares that American colleges and universities are to blame for not teaching the basic understanding of America’s history and founding principles that are essential to good citizenship.
“What is happening is not some profound failure on the part of the elite schools, it really only demonstrates some level of success on the part of lower ranked universities,” said Professor Scott Adler, who teaches political science at CU.
According to Adler, freshmen attending the bottom 10 schools had an average of about 59 percent on a civics test, while freshmen attending the top 10 schools averaged around 42 percent. However, the scores of seniors in top 10 schools are higher than the scores of seniors in the bottom 10 schools, which Adler sees as a sign of improvement in knowledge toward graduation.
“The starting point for the freshmen at these schools is just not nearly as high as the elite schools. There is much more room for improvement for these students. And we do this,” Adler said. “We add value to their civic education during their schooling. They show substantial improvement in their civic knowledge as the move toward graduation. That’s what should occur.”
And as for why CU and CSU ranked so much higher than other “more elite” schools, David S. Brown, a political science professor and director of graduate studies at CU, said he is unsure.
“I don’t know about CSU, but CU is one of the main institutions that feeds the Peace Corp and you have quite a few students that claim that one of the things they like most about Boulder are the opportunities to be an activist; there’s also kindred spirits in terms of progressive agenda and that sort of activity, so it doesn’t shock me,” Brown said.
Brown also mentioned other factors that could contribute to the results, such as high school history educations and the kinds of questions asked on the test. He also questions what knowing the answers to these questions really means for CU students.
“CU is a very active and engaged campus and I’d like to know how the exam really taps in to that engagement,” Brown said. “Does doing well on the exam make you a better citizen in terms of voting and being social or does it just measure the knowledge of random facts?”
Many CU students said the study is a good representation of civic knowledge on campus.
Sophomore political science major Julia Yugel has taken a number of political science classes and is amazed at the knowledge and interest of her fellow students in these classes.
“Since I’ve been at CU, I’ve always noticed that students in my classes knew a lot about the subjects that they were getting into, whether this was current event or historical knowledge,” Yugel said. “Everyone just seems so tuned in to the world and that’s such a good thing to see.”
Junior psychology major Jess Wagner is skeptical about his own civic knowledge, but is impressed by the knowledge of others on campus.
“I know I don’t know a lot about current events, but I don’t think that makes me a bad citizen or anything,” Wagner said. “I’m just glad that there are people on the campus and in my classes I witness everyday that are full of knowledge in and out of their majors.
I don’t know if the fact that CU students scored high on a test of random knowledge necessarily makes them better citizens than students at other schools,” Wagner said. “If we did score high though, it has to mean something. It is nice to see CU finally get the good publicity it deserves.”