Guess how many top-tier universities offer a course on Lady Gaga? Four! The University of Virginia, the University of South Carolina, Wake Forest University, and Arizona State University all now offer semester-long explorations of Lady Gaga’s apparently profound influence—since 2007—on music, fashion, and the LGBT lifestyle. Yet none of these universities requires students to take a course in U.S. history before graduation. Professors and faculty at top-ranked institutions are giving preference to frivolous classes at the expense of true education.
In a new study by the National Association of Scholars, only one in 75 top universities required students to study western civilization. In 1964, more than half required students take a two-semester course that covered the history of western civilization from Greece to the modern era. The other half of universities required courses that guaranteed graduates understood the history of their society. But studying the foundations of our society no longer seems to be a priority for American universities.
It is not just studying western civilization that has been tossed out the window. There is a dearth in all general requirements. Asking “What Will They Learn,” the American Council of Trustees and Alumni has found that only 20 percent of universities require students to take a U.S. government or history class. Only 5 percent require students to take a class in economics. Many, including top liberal arts colleges, have no general education requirements. With this setup, it is increasingly unlikely that college graduates will leave their alma maters even grasping the basics.
Paying—or borrowing—close to $20,000 a year, students and parents should approach the collegiate plunge with serious expectations of their investment. Most expect a higher standard of living. This generally involves a job, which, in an economy with an 8.6 percent unemployment rate, is hard to come by. The second expectation is more fundamental: knowledge. As a society, we expect that four years of constant studying would yield college graduates with a decent handle on composition, history, and politics.
The unwashed recent college grads occupying Wall Street have a real impetus behind their protest: disillusionment. They were sold a bill of goods. They say that their angst is against every fat cat in a suit, whom they’ve titled “the 1 percent.” But villains don’t always wear designer suits; sometimes, they wear tweed jackets. Maybe it’s time to occupy the universities.