Each academic year, hundreds of colleges and universities assign a book as “common reading” to students. These assignments are often emblematic of colleges’ values. Common reading programs may be mandatory or optional and are designed for new students, honors students, or the entire student body. Because many colleges use common reading programs as a way to initiate new students, the selected book is often the first college-level intellectual endeavor that students will be asked to make—and their first experience of college reading.
Since 2010, the National Association of Scholars has been studying college common reading programs to find out what books are selected, how many and what kinds of colleges have such programs, and how these assignments are integrated into campuses’ academic life.
This is a trend to pay attention to and can be seen as a microcosm of college life that can illuminate the particular concepts that American colleges and universities care about and the kind of reading they expect of their students.
Our 2012-2013 study covers 309 colleges and universities and the 190 books they assigned.