No college degree in Missouri without ‘citizenship’ test

If proposed legislation becomes Missouri law, college students will be required to pass a citizenship test before they will be issued a diploma.

State Rep. Dean Dohrman, a Republican, introduced House Bill 1528 to ensure that the state’s public and private colleges are turning out graduates who understand American civics, citizens’ rights and how the federal government works.

“I hope to accomplish better civic education at the higher education level,” he said. “…It’s always good for us to learn more about our government.”

Under the proposal, every college student pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree would be required to pass the Missouri Higher Education Civics Achievement Examination with at least a C, or 70 percent, to graduate.

It would apply to students enrolled at public and private higher education institutions but not private trade schools.

The exam, which must have between 50 and 100 questions, would be similar to the test given to applicants for U.S. citizenship by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

A few sample questions include:

  • How many U.S. senators are there?
  • The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
  • How many amendments are in the U.S. Constitution?
  • Name one branch or part of government?
  • If the president can no longer serve, who serves?

According to the bill, the test would cover the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, historical manifestations of federalism, governmental institutions, and history of constitutional interpretation and amendments.

Dohrman, who teaches social sciences and public management at Colorado State University – Global Campus, an online institution, said students with more knowledge about the way the country works will be more likely to get involved. 

“We do have a fairly complex system in terms of how we are organized, our federalism … and I think it’s important to have a foundation,” he said. 

The proposal was recently assigned to the House Higher Education Committee and is scheduled for a hearing at noon Wednesday. Dohrman, who represents parts of Johnson, Pettis and Saline counties, is vice-chair of the committee.

Tracy McGrady, provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs at Ozarks Technical Community College, said college students are currently required to take courses that cover the U.S. and Missouri constitutions.

She said the proposed exam appears to be redundant to curriculum that is already in history and political science classes.

“We already have something like that existing,” she said.

McGrady said beyond what happens in the classroom, OTC has a variety of activities on campus aimed at engaging students in the civic process.

A few years ago, the Missouri General Assembly approved a similar civics requirement at the high school level that was added into existing classes.

McGrady said if the civics exam is required for colleges and universities, “it will be fairly easy for us to fold in.”

Ryan DeBoef, chief of staff to Missouri State University President Clif Smart, said the university is aware of the legislation and tracking it closely.

Dohrman, who also serves as senior research fellow at the American Leadership & Policy Foundation, a think tank in Kansas City, said colleges and universities would be allowed to create their own exams and fold the curriculum into existing classes.

He said if a student passes the exam while pursuing an associate’s degree, they won’t have to take it again. “Once they pass the exam, it would alleviate the requirement.”

Dohrman, a longtime college instructor, said many citizens he encounters are familiar with the role of the U.S. president but too few understand their rights and the rest of the federal government.

“Maybe with better understanding, we’ll have better participation,” he said.

 

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