State lawmaker pushes for mandatory civics test before graduation

The bill would go into effect in August 2018.

The Missouri State Capitol. Maneater file photo

A Missouri lawmaker has proposed a bill that would require all college students in the state to pass a civics test before graduating.

Students would have to receive at least a 70 percent to receive their associate or bachelor’s degree. If passed, the bill would go into effect on Aug. 28.

House Bill 1528 is sponsored by Higher Education Committee vice chairman Dean Dohrman, with the intent of making students more informed citizens.

"I hope to accomplish better civic education at the higher education level," he said in an interview with the Kansas City Star. "...It's always good for us to learn more about our government."

Individual universities would be responsible for creating their own exams, as well as working the material into existing curriculum. Schools will also choose when the tests will be administered.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, this could have an impact of over $100,000 across universities in the state in the creation and implementation of the exam. The UM System says the exact fiscal impact is currently indeterminable, but would be significant.

"I know a lot of people in college, me being one of them, want to know more about the government and how it works, but don’t know how or where to learn,” junior Madaline Niemuth said. “But I don’t think an exam is the right way to inform them.”

The exam would be known as the “Missouri Higher Education Civics Achievement Examination” and would include 50-100 questions. According to the bill, exams could fold into existing curriculum and courses.

According to the bill, proposed exam questions would cover topics including the Constitution and Bill of Rights, government institutions and federalism.

Colleges would be able to offer the exams online, as well as using any exams from courses that already cover all relevant topics.

“I think it would be interesting,” junior Elizabeth Ronecker said. Ronecker is projected to graduate after the bill goes into effect. “If the materials are given to me then I don’t see a problem studying and taking the exam.”

Dohrman told the Kansas City Star many citizens do not fully understand the federal government outside the role of the presidency.

“We have one of the most, if not the most, complex government systems in the world,” he said in an interview with the Kansas City Star. “So I think it’s a lifelong learning experience for all of us.”

Ronecker believes this bill would help ensure students are properly educated and informed.

“This bill is important because it means that people have to have a basic understanding of how the government works,” she said. “To be a good citizen, it's important to know why and how different aspects of the government work.”

She also believes the bill would help college students learn more about voting.

“We are the new generation voting on different things,” Ronecker said. “It’s important for people to know how things work when they are voting on different topics.”

Tracy McGrady, provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs at Ozarks Technical Community College, found the proposed exam seems redundant. McGrady said students in Missouri are already required to take a civics and government class before graduating.

"We already have something like that existing," McGrady said in an interview with the Kansas City Star.

Niemuth, a special education major, only has two semesters left and is worried about the potential impact on her course load.

“I have to take certain classes for graduation,” Niemuth said. “I could definitely see this causing scheduling issues and stress in my last semesters.”

The bill was recently referred to the House Higher Education Committee and was heard in the committee on Wednesday. Action has been postponed on the bill, and no future hearing has been scheduled at this time.

Edited by Morgan Smith | mosmith@themaneater.com

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