RON KNECHT: Nevada Higher Education: Well-rounded, inexpensive and improving | NevadaAppeal.com
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RON KNECHT: Nevada Higher Education: Well-rounded, inexpensive and improving

Ron Knecht

Today, some good news about Nevada higher education. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), which promotes high standards and real education reform (not politically correct fads, nor just mindlessly throwing money at schools), assigns Nevada’s state college and universities a B grade in a national ranking.

ACTA surveyed 718 public and private institutions – almost all U.S. colleges and universities except technical schools like MIT – and graded them on the rigor of their core curricula. ACTA addressed a fundamental question: If you graduate from an institution, does its core curriculum assure you’ll get a solid education in important areas to prepare you for work, citizenship and life?

ACTA considered whether a core includes these areas: composition (effective writing); literature; a foreign language; U.S. government or history; economics; mathematics; and natural or physical science.

Beyond asking whether a subject is required, ACTA investigated whether the standard actually requires students to pass substantive courses in the subject, not tangential fluff nor one among many non-basic electives. Princeton’s Literature and Arts requirement can be satisfied by “American Horror Fiction and Cinema” – so ACTA gives no credit. Wisconsin allows 550 courses, including “Introduction to Television,” for a similar requirement – also no credit.

Only 17 schools (two percent), notably including Air Force, Army and some Texas schools, got an A, meaning their core curricula require at least six of the seven areas. Besides Nevada’s institutions, 249 others got a B because they require four or five of the seven areas.

Consider some of our B company: Arizona State, Chicago, Columbia, Duke, Navy, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Purdue, Utah and Utah State. If you can get accepted at highly selective universities like Chicago and afford their whopping tuition, maybe you should go there. Otherwise, Nevada’s very low costs (especially if you start at one of our community colleges) and high standards argue for staying here.

Among C recipients are: Brigham Young, Idaho, Idaho State, Princeton, Stanford, UCLA and USC. Notable Ds: Arizona, Harvard, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon, Oregon State and Wisconsin. Salient Fs: Boise State, Brown, Northwestern, Oberlin, Rice, Smith, UC-Berkeley, UC-Davis, Washington and Yale.

Of course, you can get a good, well-rounded education at most of those schools if you choose your courses well and work hard. You can also slide through at many of them, learn very little and emerge unprepared for work, citizenship and life. In Nevada, we’re trying to close off the slide-through option and assure that our graduates are well educated and get their money’s worth.

• Regent Ron Knecht of Carson City is an economist and law and engineering graduate.