Working in a lab with students is Dr. Peter Thomas, associate professor of education and science. USAO's faculty-student ratio 15-1, among the lowest in Oklahoma.

USAO joins America's elite 19 for 'A-grade' curriculum

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Only 19 universities in America scored an ‘A’ grade in the national What Will They Learn? project, aimed at improving essential core curriculum. That list includes the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) unveiled its 2011 list on Tuesday.

Each year, ACTA publishes “What Will They Learn?” which judges universities across the United States based on how many of seven core subjects that students are required to study: composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, and mathematics or natural/physical science. USAO also is listed as one of 16 “hidden gems” in America.

"We would like to see every school manifest such a commitment to the liberal arts as USAO,” said ACTA President Anne D. Neal.  “That's the point of our project at What Will They Learn. We believe colleges and universities have an obligation to ensure graduates are given the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in this competitive marketplace.  USAO is a model for other institutions across the country."

While most universities have general education requirements as part of every degree programs, the boundaries for what is a “math” class or a “history” class have grown more lax over time. In contrast, USAO’s Interdisciplinary (IDS) core has remained the centerpiece of the university’s degree program since the mid-1960s.

“The loosening of academic standards at universities across America has been one of the great educational crises of our time,” said Dr. Dex Marble, vice president for academic affairs. “At USAO, we have kept our focus for more than a half-century on classical models of education, resulting in a type of academic demand not found at most universities, public or private. It’s a great honor to see that recognized nationally,”

Marble served previously as a 25-year member of the USAO faculty who was instrumental in shaping and preserving the interdisciplinary core curriculum.

Only 15 Oklahoma institutions are ranked on the list of 1,000 schools. USAO is the only university to receive the highest mark of ‘A’ in addition to being the most affordable to attend.

“When any Oklahoma institution earns national acclaim, all Oklahomans win,” said Dr. John Feaver, president of USAO and a former 18-year member of its faculty. “USAO proudly serves as Oklahoma’s designated public liberal arts university. This and every national distinction have been the result of collaboration between our regents, faculty, students and alumni to maintain the unique identity and mission of the university.”

For the first time ever, USAO has this fall been moved to the “National Liberal Arts Colleges” category in U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings for quality and value – to be released in September. Included because more than half its graduates earn degrees in the traditional arts and sciences, USAO becomes the only university in Oklahoma, public or private, to make the National Liberal Arts Colleges list.

Oklahoma Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki, praised the results.

“If the U.S. wants to be competitive, our colleges and universities must ensure students learn about math, science, literature, history and other core academic subjects. And too many are simply failing to do so.

“I am pleased that our colleges and universities fared particularly well in ACTA's What Will They Learn? college guide. The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, one of only 19 institutions to receive an A, is a fine example of that effort. As we get ready to launch Complete College America, under the governor's leadership, we will continue to make the quality education of our students a top priority.”

ACTA created the “What Will They Learn?” website in response to a concern that America’s universities were losing sight of the goal of preserving and advancing Western cultural identity through the teaching of its history and values.

Dr. Harry Lewis, dean at Harvard College from 1995 through 2003, is quoted on ACTA’s website as saying that general education is “not about the freedom to combine random ingredients, but about joining an ancient lineage of the learned and wise. And it has a goal, too: producing an enlightened, self-reliant citizenry, pluralistic and diverse but united by democratic values.”

Core curriculum has been a critical issue for USAO during all of its 103 years. When the Oklahoma College for Women was renamed the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts by the legislature in 1965, school administrators and faculty worked diligently to keep the institution’s liberal arts legacy at the core of its mission.

This dedication to providing “the public with a distinctive and accessible liberal arts and sciences education” by “combining an interdisciplinary core curriculum with superior instruction in major fields of study” remained central to USAO’s mission when the institution earned the name USAO in 1974.

“USAO rejects the menu approach to general education, in which students choose from many courses that have been pieced together into broad categories,” explained Dr. Jennifer Long, chair of interdisciplinary studies at USAO. “Instead, all USAO students take the same sequence of courses, building a common experience that binds together current students, faculty and alumni. This common set of courses is structured to lead students through a logical sequence of learning.”

Besides USAO, 18 other schools are on the ‘A’ list, including Pepperdine University, the United States Air Force Academy, Baylor University and Texas A&M.

ACTA was founded in 1995 under the name “The National Alumni Forum” by Lynne Cheney, former University of Colorado at Boulder president and U.S. Senator Hank Brown, sociologist David Riesman, Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman among others. In 1996, the NAF changed its name to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

ACTA’s stated goals are to support the liberal arts educational model with the purpose of encouraging high academic standards while insisting that every generation of Americans are able to receive a high-quality college education at an affordable price.

Its current board of directors includes Edwin Meese, attorney general and advisor to Pres. Ronald Reagan, John Fonte, a senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at Hudson Institute and current president Neal among others. The organization’s national network includes alumni and trustees from more than 700 colleges and universities, including 10,000 current board members.

“Our regents at USAO, led capably by attorney Molly Tolbert, will take great pride in this announcement by a national group of educational leaders,” Feaver added. “Our regents provide exceptional leadership and vision that remains true to the high goals of our 10-year Mission Enhancement Plan, which has raised USAO’s admissions standards to the highest in Oklahoma.”

Neal explains the report’s goal: “Our website asks a simple question about today’s students: What will students learn? Many college guides and ranking systems measure institutions’ prestige and reputation, but no guide has looked at what students are actually required to learn. That’s what we are doing here.”

Those interested in learning more about ACTA and USAO’s top-ranking score should visit or