The Center for the Study of the Curriculum identifies and conducts research projects which examine aspects of contemporary college programs. Its goal is to document trends in the academy today, encourage colleges to seek excellence, and improve the quality of higher education for future generations.


The Center for the Study of the Curriculum examines long-term trends and new developments in American college instruction. Its goals are to document and to analyze important changes to the curriculum and to propose improvements. The Center is rooted in the view that Americans are best served by forms of college education that are intellectually well-rounded, rigorous, and focused on preparation for wise and productive life.



Beach Books: What Do Colleges and Universities Want Students to Read Outside Class? (2012, 2011, and 2010)

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.

What books do colleges and universities assign as common reading? What themes do the books contain? Are they old books or recent ones? What kinds of colleges and universities have common reading programs? What does a typical common reading program look like? What does all this tell us about the state of American higher education today?

To find out, we examined books assigned by 309 colleges and universities for the academic year 2012-2013. We found that colleges tended to assign contemporary books with mass appeal rather than more time-tested books.

We encourage colleges to continue and to improve their common reading programs. We offer 12 recommendations to colleges for choosing better books and making the most of the common reading experience. We also offer a list of 50 books we recommend for common reading.

Read 2012-2013 report >

Read 2011-2012 report (PDF)

Read 2010-2011 report (PDF)

Examining "Social Justice" in Higher Education (Forthcoming in 2013/2014)

NAS is beginning a new research project that will develop the first comprehensive picture of “social justice” in American higher education.

More and more academic disciplines—as well as colleges and universities—have declared that commitment to “social justice” is integral to their missions; our goal is to flesh out the implications of this. The project will have four elements: a major published report, campus debates, a seminar to present our findings, and an open-ended series of short essays and reports on particular aspects of the “social justice” movement. We aim to explain what “social justice” means and where it is situated on the political spectrum; provide a new synthesis of information looking at the uses of “social justice” in professional standards and codes of ethics; consider the consequences of such uses and how this is affecting the integrity of education; and recommend specific reforms.

What Does Bowdoin Teach? (2013)

What Does Bowdoin Teach? is a case study to learn what a contemporary liberal arts college education consists of. The study is a rigorous examination of the curriculum, student activities, and campus culture of one elite liberal arts college. Our goals were to understand to what extent intellectual diversity is practiced at this college, and to create a template for how such a rigorous study could be undertaken at other liberal arts colleges and universities. 

Our major report of nearly 400 pages traces the evolution of the College from its roots in strong intellectual traditions, a core curriculum, and a commitment to Western Civilization to its current model of dedication to the achievement of social justice and to reshaping America in the image of progressive politics.

Read report >


Recasting History: Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History? (2013)

Recasting History examines how American history is taught to freshmen and sophomores at Texas A&M University at College Station and the University of Texas at Austin.

This report considers whether race, class, and gender are displacing other important approaches to the study of American history. In our study we looked closely at the textbooks and other readings in these courses and measured the extent of each one’s focus on race, class and gender. We also studied the correlation between faculty members’ reading assignments, their research interests, and the decades in which they received PhDs. We found that institutional culture plays a strong role in influencing faculty members to assign books with high race, class, and gender content.

Read report >


A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California (2012)

The quality of education in the University of California has been compromised by increasing politicization. Many of its courses promote political activism, and the courses that have been eliminated (such as Western civilization surveys) evince political bias as well. A Crisis of Competence explains why it is wrong to use the university for political purposes and the consequences of doing so. Among these consequences are stunted intellectual curiosity, lack of openness to competing ideas, and abandonment of the university's real mission. The larger consequences for society as a whole include a college-educated generation poorly prepared for citizenship; a sharp decline in the quality of high school teaching; and seriously compromised upward mobility for minorities.

The report was prepared for the Regents of the University of California by the California Association of Scholars, a division of the NAS. It calls on the Regents to take up their responsibility "to see that the University remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest" (Regents' Policy on Course Content). 

Read report (PDF)

The Vanishing West: 1964-2010 (2011)

Western Civilization survey courses, once a staple in American higher education, have all but disappeared at our leading universities and colleges. What happened to the study of Western Civilization? Why has it nearly disappeared? What has replaced it? To find out, we examined the requirements of fifty prominent universities and colleges as they were in 1964 and 1989 and as they are today, plus the current requirements of seventy-five additional state universities. 

The Vanishing West invites a new dialogue on how best to resume the work of teaching a rounded overview of our civilization to young men and women on whom the responsibility will fall to maintain and improve it. We offer twenty-three recommendations aimed at better studying the problem, rebuilding the curriculum, and repairing the graduate education pipeline, so that the history profession will again begin to prepare faculty capable of, and interested in, teaching about the broad course of Western history.

Read Report (PDF)