The Intercollegiate Studies Institute administered a 60 question quiz on knowledge of American history, government, foreign affairs, and market economics to a random sample of the American public, both college grads and not.
Their findings showed that the years in college made little difference in civic literacy.
In 2008, ISI expanded the field of study to measure the average independent impact of college on the acquisition of civic literacy among Americans of all ages. A random, representative sample of 2,508 American adults was surveyed to allow comparisons between those with and without college degrees. Respondents were asked 33 questions, many drawn from U.S. naturalization exams and U.S. Department of Education high school progress tests (NAEP). 71% of Americans failed this basic test. The overall average score was only 49%, with college graduates also failing at 57%.
What are students learning in college then?
Knowledge of American history, government, foreign affairs and economics had the almost exact opposite effect.
If two people otherwise share the same basic characteristics, including equal civic knowledge, the one who graduates from college will be more likely than the one who does not graduate from college to:
- Favor same same-sex marriage; and
- Favor abortion on demand.
Similarly, all else being equal, a college graduate will be less likely to:
- Believe anyone can succeed in America with hard work and perseverance;
- Favor teacher-led prayer in public schools; and
- Believe the Bible is the Word of God.
[I]f two people otherwise share the same basic characteristics, including formal education, the one who scores higher on the civic literacy exam will be:Civic knowledge likewise had the effect of increasing an individual's regard for American institutions and ideals.
- More likely to agree that a person’s evaluation of a nation improves with his understanding of it; but
- Less likely to agree that legislatures should subsidize a college in proportion to its students learning about America.
- More likely to agree that prosperity depends on entrepreneurs and free markets; but
- Less likely to agree that the free market brings about full employment.
- More likely to agree that the Ten Commandments remain relevant; but
- Less likely to agree that the Bible is the Word of God.
If two people otherwise share the same basic characteristics—they have the same level of education, earn the same income, are the same age, etc.—the one with greater civic knowledge will be more likely to support:
- America’s ideals: He or she will be less likely to agree with the proposition that America corrupts otherwise good people.
- America’s Founding documents: He or she will be less likely to agree with the proposition that the Founding documents are obsolete.
- American free enterprise: He or she will be more likely to agree that prosperity depends on entrepreneurs and free markets, and less likely to agree that global capitalism produces few winners and many losers, and that government regulation does more good than harm.
- The Ten Commandments: He or she will be less likely to agree that the Ten Commandments are irrelevant today.
You can take the test for yourself here and see how you measure up on civic literacy. Let me know how you did. (I scored 90.91%!)