Colleges Change Student Views
Special Report - February 15, 2010
According to a new report from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a college education does not increase a student’s knowledge of American history and values, but instead significantly alters the student’s views on five polarizing issues, such as prayer in schools, abortion and same-sex marriage. The annual report entitled, The Shaping of the American Mind, was released on February 10. ISI researchers studied student approval and disapproval of 39 issue-based propositions, but only fiveprayer in schools, abortion, same-sex marriage, the Bible, and the ability to achieve through hard work showed significant statistical changes over the course of the students’ time at college.
Researchers gave a random sample of 2,508 American adults a test with 33 questions, many drawn from the U.S. naturalization exam and the U.S. Department of Education’s high school progress tests. While the overall average score on the test was 49 percent, those who were college graduates also failed when tested on knowledge of their country with an average score of 57 percent, causing the ISI report to conclude, “earning a bachelor’s degree does not significantly impact civic knowledge.”
Additionally, the study found that after the course of study for a bachelor’s degree, respondents were more likely to favor abortion on demand and same-sex marriage. Also, the respondents were less likely to agree that prayer should be allowed in schools, that the Bible is the word of God, or that anyone can succeed in America with hard work and perseverance.
The adults who received higher civic literacy scores were more likely to believe in American ideals and institutions, and less likely to react reflexively to groups of propositions. According to the report, “While college influences a person’s opinions on a narrow set of polarizing social issues, civic knowledge influences a person’s opinions on propositions in all of the major survey themes, including American ideals and institutions, higher education, immigration and diversity, culture and society, religion and faith, and market economy and public policy.”
This news comes as the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has proposed revising high school Civics and U.S. History courses to focus on post-1877 American history, while giving little attention to the revolutionary, founding, early republic, Jacksonian, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods. In a recent letter to North Carolina lawmakers, State Superintendent June Atkinson contended that the exposure to American history was adequate, saying, “the only difference [would be that] the U.S. History course would not cover pre-Reconstruction events since students would have had multiple opportunities to study that time period in grades 4, 5 and 7, and in Civics and Economics.” Students would be introduced to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as a part of their tenth grade Civics and Economics course.
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