Organization gives AU D grade for general education curriculum

Oct. 6—ANDERSON — A local university that started out as a liberal arts college has been given a low rating for its general education requirements by an independent nonprofit committed to liberal arts education and academic freedom.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni gave Anderson University, whose roots were in liberal arts, a grade of D on a scale of A to F.

However, AU President John Pistole, himself a graduate of the institution, said he believes the methodology used by the council to assess more than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities is faulty.

"We are in great standing with all our accreditation bodies," he said. "I don't think we would change things to accommodate their methodology and criteria."

ACTA's annual survey grades schools on how many of seven liberal arts disciplines they require of all students. Those include composition, literature, intermediate-level foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and natural science.

AU was strongest in composition and science, according to the survey.

"ACTA believes these core subjects are the foundational elements of an excellent, comprehensive education that prepares students for careers and informed citizenship," the organization's officials said in a prepared statement.

ACTA is one of many organizations that provide rankings on various criteria in an effort to help potential students make informed college choices.

ACTA Vice President of Policy Bradley Jackson said American post-secondary institutions have a duty to prepare students not only for careers but also for life within a democracy.

"Many schools today are simply failing to meet this standard," he said in a prepared statement. "Higher education should leave students more thoughtful, more empathetic, and much more learned. Sadly, too few colleges and universities require a broad-based, strong core curriculum that promotes rigorous thinking and responsible citizenship — and our public culture shows it."

Only 22 schools — none in Indiana — received a grade of A.

Though Purdue University is graded and earned a B, satellite programs, such as Purdue Polytechnic-Anderson and Purdue's online program aren't graded.

Ivy Tech Community College is not included in the grading at all.

Nearby Ball State also was awarded a D grade by ACTA.

Among Christian colleges and universities in Indiana, Goshen College, Indiana Wesleyan University and the University of Notre Dame also received D grades. Taylor University earned a B.

Among liberal arts colleges, DePauw University, Earlham College and Hanover College were given F grades.

Pistole admitted AU has moved away from its roots, becoming better known in recent years for its business, cybersecurity, education, engineering and nursing programs, all of which are highly regarded according to the criteria of other organizations.

"Those are the five areas where we see the greatest potential for meeting the greatest need," he said.

The shift away from liberal arts, Pistole said, is due in large part to the demands of a market where students either seek a Christian education or workforce preparation for specific fields. Though the various disciplines included under liberal arts are valuable, he said, the requirements of many majors are becoming increasingly demanding and leave little time for additional subjects if students hope to graduate within four years.

"I am disappointed in that, but these subjects aren't distinctive, compelling and relevant from our students' perspective," he said.

Still, Pistole said he takes ACTA's grade seriously.

"No university wants a low grade," he said. "We always have to improve."

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.