Americans Want More Geography than U. S. Schools, Colleges, & Universities Provide
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Americans Want More Geography than U. S. Schools, Colleges, & Universities Provide


By Jerome E. Dobson, Stephanie L. Kozak, and Joseph S. Wood


A new nationwide survey finds overwhelming public support for geography at all levels of education and recognizes the discipline’s value in government and business.  The results indicate Americans predominantly: 

    • Want more geography education to be offered in schools, colleges, and universities throughout the United States.

      • Approximately nine out of ten respondents wish they themselves had more geographic education and nearly all want more for their children. To meet this need, respondents favored offering geography courses at every education level, from elementary school to Ph. D. programs in the most elite universities.  And, they insist instructors should have formal training in geography.

    • Recognize the importance of geography in today’s society.

      • A very high proportion of respondents said they use geographic knowledge and skills in their everyday lives.  They repeatedly demonstrated that they use geographic concepts and spatial thinking when engaging with the world around them on local to global matters.  Respondents correctly identified professions and government agencies in which geography and its skills would be highly useful.

    • Know that geography is about far more than just “knowing your states and capitals.

      • Respondents show a sophisticated understanding of the purview of geography, which is defined not by content but rather by its emphasis on spatial reasoning,  though many did not know to call it geography.  They understand that the discipline covers a wide range of topics, methods, techniques, and technologies.

      • However, specific knowledge about real world geography (places and processes) is no better than the dismal levels found routinely in other public surveys of geographic knowledge.


The survey ran online from December 12, 2011 through March 31, 2012 with volunteers soliciting adult U. S. residents to participate.  The AGS Geographic Knowledge and Values Survey received 4,001 valid responses from people throughout the United States.  While not a true random sample, the results are indicative of a sizable cohort of the U. S. population: more educated, more female, and less ethnically and racially diverse than the general population.


The survey shows that Americans want more geography and geographic education than U. S. elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and universities provide.  The findings suggest widespread public support for expanding geography education. 


What will it take to meet such high public expectations?  Every elementary and high school student must have the opportunity to learn basic geography and experience geographic technology.  At a minimum, every freshman should reach college knowing that geography is a viable major with solid career prospects after graduation.  Every college and university student must have access to a full geographic curriculum—thematic, regional, methodological, and technological—within the set of college destinations among which he or she normally would choose.  Nationwide, such opportunities do not exist for most students and funding is insufficient for implementing and maintaining strong geography programs at all education levels.


The implications for colleges and universities are clear because primary and secondary education cannot be improved without concomitant improvements in higher education.  States must establish rigorous standards for geography teachers, and schools of education must respond with adequate numbers of teachers steeped in geography.  To meet workforce needs, scholarships must be available to support the best and brightest students who choose to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in geography.  Grants must be available to encourage substantially increased geographic research, including fieldwork, foreign and domestic, by faculty and students.  Development grants must be available to upgrade or create geography faculties throughout the nation; ensure topical, regional, methodological, and technological coverage; upgrade geographic technology; and promote community outreach.


The full report can be accessed at:


Jerome E. Dobson is President and Director of the American Geographical Society, Professor of Geography at the University of Kansas, and Jefferson Science Fellow with the National Academies and U. S. Department of State.  Stephanie L. Kozak is a Graduate Research Fellow with the American Geographical Society and a Ph. D. candidate at the University of Kansas.  Joseph S. Wood is Provost of the University of Baltimore.
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