University praised for broad curriculum

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The University of Texas at Austin is one of 18 colleges and universities given an A grade for its core curriculum in a report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Meanwhile, Harvard University, which is ranked as the top university in U.S. News and World Report, received a D grade. The ratings are based on whether the institution requires all undergraduates take seven specific subjects. Because UT requires six of those subjects, it received an A. Michael Pomeranz, spokesman for the council, said the basic requirements are a valid instrument to measure because all students should learn them. “Estimates today are that a college graduate will change jobs nine, 10, 11 times in the course of her career,” he said. “Obviously, you can’t count on specialization.” Pomeranz said he was not concerned with the fact that schools who normally rank highly on other measures received lower grades. Most rankings are based on reputation directly or indirectly, Pomeranz said, but his system is entirely different. “We wanted to measure what students will learn, which is what really matters to a student, parent or guidance counselor evaluating a school or an employer evaluating a graduate,” Pomeranz said. The state government mandates a 42-hour core curriculum, said Undergraduate Studies Dean Paul Woodruff. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board sets guidelines for subject areas, and the Undergraduate Studies Advisory Committee proposes courses to meet those requirements and changes in annual reviews. Faculty Council votes on those changes, and then the Coordinating Board must approve them before the University can implement them. Pomeranz said college representatives have called the Faculty Council to discuss their curricula. He said he hopes the report encourages schools to broaden their requirements and make sure they accomplish their goals. Woodruff said he thinks adding an economics course as a separate requirement, as the report recommends, is unnecessary. “Texas high schools require a basic [economics] course, and that suffices for some students,” Woodruff said. “We are looking to support a solid general education for good citizens and lifelong learners.” Psychology sophomore Miranda Edson said the rating system overemphasized the importance of lower-division classes. She said the foreign language and composition requirements were more important than history or a literature survey class. She said she would factor the core curriculum into a rating of a college but also consider degree plans. “At the end, when you graduate, it’s more important that you actually learned something than completed requirements,” Edson said.