What Colleges Want Freshmen to Read

  • Press_Release
  • June 03, 2010

PRINCETON, NJ (June 3, 2010)—The National Association of Scholars has released a study of colleges that assign a single book as summer reading to incoming freshmen.

The report, “Beach Books: What Do Colleges Want Students to Read Outside Class?” covers 180 books and 290 programs. It is the most comprehensive and up-to-date study yet of this important development in American higher education. Colleges assign summer reading to foster intellectual community on campus by making sure that students have read at least one book in common.

The NAS study shows that the reading assignments are slanted heavily towards promoting liberal social causes and liberal sensibilities. Of the 180 books, 126 (70 percent) either explicitly promoted a liberal political agenda or advanced a liberal interpretation of events. By contrast, the study identified only three books (less than 2 percent) that promoted a conservative sensibility and none that promote conservative political causes.

Other findings:

  • Books on multiculturalism, immigration, and racism outnumbered all other subjects
  • Most selections are unchallenging; pitched to junior high-level reading skills 
  • Only four classic texts; contemporary fiction dominates the list

Peter Wood, president of the NAS, said. “We think common reading programs are a good idea. But we were surprised to find how often they get stuck in the rut of promoting trendy causes.”

Wood said the NAS wants to help. “Something is wrong when Frankenstein is the best book on the list; the only work of philosophy is The Communist Manifesto; and books on Africa outnumber books on Europe nearly six to one.” NAS recommends seven steps colleges can take to improve their book choices.

Peter Wood, President, NAS: 609-683-7878; [email protected]

The National Association of Scholars advocates for higher education reform.


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