April 19, 2021

Trustees: Purdue to add civics literacy requirement for incoming class, option for all students

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Purdue University Board of Trustees on Monday (April 19) announced its plan to adopt a civics literacy graduation requirement for undergraduates, beginning with students who enter Purdue in fall 2021. The board will vote on the requirement at its June 11 public meeting.

The civics literacy program ultimately will be a graduation requirement for all undergraduate students beginning with this fall’s incoming class. The program will be available and optional for all other students and will lead to a notation of Civics Literacy Proficiency on the student transcript.

The program, in which students will have three options to achieve the requirement, was developed and recommended by a team of Purdue faculty following study and discussion over the past two years among the University Senate, Purdue administrators and members of Purdue’s Board of Trustees Academic and Student Affairs Committee. The faculty team included Robert Browning, professor of political science and communication, and faculty director of the Center for C-SPAN Scholarship & Engagement; Jay McCann, professor of political science; and Phillip VanFossen,  the James F. Ackerman Professor of Social Studies and director of the Ackerman Center for Democratic Citizenship in the College of Education.

“There is plenty of evidence that many in our society are sadly lacking in civics knowledge and unprepared to actively and effectively engage in our democratic processes,” said JoAnn Brouillette, chair of the trustees Academic and Student Affairs Committee. “Many of our faculty have agreed that this is a vital need, and we are grateful for their diligent efforts over the past months to create this program that will serve our students as they enter an ever-changing world.”

Surveys over the past decade from Newsweek, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and many others have shown the extreme lack of knowledge among Americans when it comes to civics and governance. Among survey findings:

  • Just 26% of Americans can name all three branches of government.
  • Only 12% understand the relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, and correctly answered that the 13th Amendment freed all the slaves in the United States.
  • Almost 60% failed to identify a requirement for ratifying a constitutional amendment. 

“Findings like these are quite troubling,” McCann said, “given that our system of representation rests on the assumption of an informed public. Just as troubling is the startling rise in political ‘misinformation’ these days, in addition to gaps in civics knowledge. This makes it even more pressing for Purdue undergraduates to have a solid grounding in the basics of American politics and civic life.”

VanFossen said: “Purdue students have shown they fare better than the national averages when it comes to civic knowledge, but there remains much room for improvement. These curricular and experiential requirements will help our students grow and reach their potential as contributing citizens of our world. Additionally, some studies have found employers value candidates who have this knowledge — who are ‘civics certified,’ if you will.”

The Civics Literacy Proficiency program was created with the goal of adding to the educational experience of Purdue students in an effort to graduate a knowledgeable and engaged citizenry.

The desired learning outcomes include:

  • Increasing student understanding of important contemporary political issues.
  • Identifying opportunities to grow one’s engagement in American politics.
  • Raising student awareness of, and options for, civic participation.

Students will complete the Proficiency by passing a test of civic literacy (currently undergoing validation and analysis), and one of three paths:

  • Attending six approved civics-related events.
  • Completing 12 podcasts created by the Purdue Center for C-SPAN Scholarship and Engagement that use C-SPAN material.
  • Completing one of these approved courses.

For more information visit the Civics Literacy Proficiency website.

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 5 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at https://purdue.edu/.

Media contact: Tim Doty, doty2@purdue.edu

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