History majors at top colleges don’t know much about U.S. history — or at least they don’t have to.
A new report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit group that advocates for accountability at schools, found that just 23 of the institutions among the 76 deemed to be the “best” by U.S. News & World Report’s 2016 rankings require history majors to take at least one U.S. history course.
Many elite schools, including Rice University and Johns Hopkins University, may require students to take courses about events from before 1750, or on East Asian and sub-Saharan African politics, without also demanding that they study the creation of the U.S. Constitution or the civil-rights movement.
The association said in its report that the absence of mandates that history majors take U.S. history classes with chronological and thematic breadth is “a truly breathtaking abandonment of intellectual standards and professional judgment.”
Students who make it to the top universities generally have taken U.S. history classes in high school. But Michael Poliakoff, president-elect of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said that doesn’t mean they have a solid understanding of the country’s founding principles or major social movements. The group found in a 2014 survey that a majority of U.S. college graduates don’t know the length of a congressional term or what the Emancipation Proclamation was.