What Will They Learn?™ rates each college on whether the institution (or, in many cases, the Arts & Sciences or Liberal Arts divisions) requires seven core subjects: Composition, Literature, Foreign Language, U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics, and Natural or Physical Science. The grade is based on a detailed examination of the latest publicly-available online course catalogs at the time of review.
The fact that a college has requirements called "Literature" or "Mathematics" does not necessarily mean that students will actually study those subjects. "Distribution requirements" on most campuses permit students to pick from a wide range of courses that often are overly-specialized or even outside the stated field altogether. To determine whether institutions have a solid core curriculum, we defined success in each of the seven subject areas as follows:
Composition. An introductory college writing class focusing on grammar, clarity, argument, and appropriate expository style. Remedial courses and SAT/ACT scores may not be used to satisfy a composition requirement. University-administered exams or portfolios are acceptable only when they are used to determine exceptional pre-college preparation for students. Writing-intensive courses, "writing across the curriculum" seminars, and writing for a discipline are not acceptable unless there is an indication of clear provisions for multiple writing assignments, instructor feedback, revision and resubmission of student writing, and explicit language concerning the mechanics of formal writing, including such elements as grammar, sentence structure, coherence, and documentation.
Literature. A comprehensive literature survey or a selection of courses of which a clear majority are surveys and the remainder are literary in nature, although single-author or theme-based in structure. Freshman seminars, humanities sequences, or other specialized courses that include a substantial literature survey component count.
Foreign Language. Competency at the intermediate level, defined as at least three semesters of college-level study in any foreign language. No distinction is made between B.A. and B.S. degrees, or individual majors within these degrees, when applying the Foreign Language criteria.
U.S. Government or History. A survey course in either U.S. government or history with enough chronological and topical breadth to expose students to the sweep of American history and institutions. Narrow, niche courses do not count for the requirement, nor do courses that only focus on a limited chronological period or a specific state or region. State- or university-administered, and/or state-mandated, exams are accepted for credit on a case-by-case basis dependent upon the rigor required.
Economics. A course covering basic economic principles, preferably an introductory micro- or macroeconomics course taught by faculty from the economics or business department.
Mathematics. A college-level course in mathematics. Specific topics may vary, but must involve study beyond the level of intermediate algebra and cover topics beyond those typical of a college-preparatory high school curriculum. Remedial courses or SAT/ACT scores may not be used as substitutes. Courses in formal or symbolic logic, computer science with programming, and linguistics involving formal analysis count.
Natural or Physical Science. A course in astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, physical geography, physics, or environmental science, preferably with a laboratory component. Overly narrow courses, courses with weak scientific content, and courses taught by faculty outside of the science departments do not count. Psychology courses count if they are focused on the biological, chemical, or neuroscientific aspects of the field.
Half-Credit. If a requirement exists from which students choose between otherwise qualifying courses within two What Will They Learn™ subject areas (e.g., math or science; history or economics, etc.), one-half credit is given for both subjects.
With these criteria in mind, we assign grades based on how many of these seven subjects students are required to complete. If a core course were an option among other courses that do not meet the What Will They Learn?™ criteria for a certain subject, the institution did not receive credit for that subject. Credit is given only for what an institution requires of its students, not what it merely recommends. The grading system is as follows:
A 6-7 core subjects required
B 4-5 core subjects required
C 3 core subjects required
D 2 core subjects required
F 0-1 core subjects required