What does a degree mean? The Lumina Foundation has developed a proposed Degree Qualifications Profile that tries to define the general knowledge and skills that should be required to earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The framework “is intended to help define generally what is expected of college graduates, regardless of their majors or fields of study, says the report.
“As part of our national goal to dramatically increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees, we need a shared understanding of what a degree represents in terms of learning,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “We want to create a shared understanding of what these degrees mean, which doesn’t exist now, and then to test whether this Degree Profile can be implemented in ways that further our understanding.”
All students should demonstrate competence in specialized knowledge, broad/integrated knowledge, applied learning, intellectual skills and civic learning, the report states. It includes suggestions for tasks students could complete to demonstrate their mastery, but it will be up to individual colleges to decide how to measure students’ learning.
Here’s Lumina’s Q&A on the project.
Lumina is a leader in the movement to increase the number of Americans with college degrees, notes Daniel de Vise in the Washington Post’s College Inc. The push for more degrees has raised concerns about the quality of those degrees.
Other developed nations have already developed universal standards to measure the skills of university graduates. But in the U.S., most colleges have defined degrees in terms of “seat time” — hours spent inside classrooms, earning passing grades.
Colleges and universities would develop assessments to “validate and document student mastery of each competence on its list,” Adelman said. “These could come from paper assignments, performance instructions, exhibit catalogues, laboratory assignments, test (not standardized, but course-embedded) questions, etc.”
The Degree Qualifications Profile will be a hard sell on campus, several higher education experts told Inside Higher Ed.
“A learning framework that really promotes student success has to be developed at the local level and has to be led by front-line faculty and staff,” Larry Gold, higher education director for the American Federation of Teachers, said via e-mail. “Nothing is less likely to help students succeed than an overly standardized curriculum and assessment regime imposed from the outside.”
Lumina wants colleges to see the framework as a starting point, not a mandate from on high.
Many college students aren’t learning reasoning and writing skills, concludes a new book, Academically Adrift, by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. Arum told Inside Higher Ed he was impressed by the Lumina document.
“It draws attention to what students know, rather than to the general ‘let’s count course credits and assume they’ve gotten something out of it’ approach to students,” he said. “If colleges and universities did this, it would shift things in a positive way.”
Arum described himself as “skeptical,” however, about “where the incentives are to get the colleges and universities to do this, to decide ‘this is a useful framework to us.’ “
If colleges don’t pay attention to student learning, politicians will “threaten to wade in and fix the problem,” Adelman warned. “If higher education runs away from this challenge, it will lose all its claims to sanctity” on questions of student learning.