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Posted at 9:15 AM ET, 01/25/2011

Lumina sets standards for college degrees

By Daniel de Vise

The Lumina Foundation issued a report Tuesday that attempts to define what everyone with a college degree should know and be able to do, addressing a basic question in higher education that has proven surprisingly difficult to answer.

"There's no generally accepted definition of what quality is in higher education," said Jamie Merisotis, president of Lumina, an education think tank based in Indianapolis. "You've got to have a shared understanding of what a degree represents."

The report is an effort to shore up quality in the machinery of higher education at a time when the Obama administration and others are calling for a sharp increase in output of college degrees; Lumina is a leader in that movement. The document also represents an industry response to mounting pressure on the academy to prove the worth of its product.

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.

"All we know that a bachelor's degree means now is you earned 120 credit hours with a 2.7 GPA and 40 credits in your major. That's all we know," said Clifford Adelman, a senior associate with the Institute for Higher Education Policy and co-author
of the Lumina report.

The report states that all who complete a college degree, irrespective of field, should be able to demonstrate abilities in five "areas of competence." These include specialized knowledge in their field, broad and integrated knowledge across multiple fields, the ability to apply what they have learned, intellectual skills such as analysis and communication, and the ability to engage in society and public discourse.

The authors offer several proposed tasks to demonstrate each skill upon completing an associate degree, with correspondingly harder tasks for bachelor's or master's candidates. Each task is written in language that could potentially be measured on
a standardized test
, Adelman said, an intentional design that invites states and university systems to create such tests.

[Adelman objected to the language above and offered these further details on the potential utility of the Degree Profile: "Each institution that develops its own version of the DQP would provide assessment prompts it uses to validate and document student mastery of each competence on its list. These could come from paper assignments, performance instructions, exhibit catalogues, laboratory assignments, test (not standardized, but course-embedded) questions, etc. After a while, it will be fascinating to see what they choose as illustrative assessments, what disciplines they use, what level of course, etc. For example, if, to validate an applied learning competency at the
bachelor's level, an institution offered a project description in which a music student is asked to compose a song (music and lyrics) in the form of classic German leider and drawing on the Renaissance poetic form of a sestina, the assignment would match the competence and serve as valid assessment evidence.]

To demonstrate specialized knowledge, for example, an associate degree holder "describes the scope and principal features of his/her field of study," while a bachelor's student "defines and explains the boundaries and major sub-fields," and the
master's student "assesses the contributions of major figures" in that field.

A small group of accreditors and academic associations have agreed to test the definitions at individual schools. The authors say they hope the document will become a principal tool in the growing movement to measure the knowledge and skills of graduating students nationwide. Institutions could refine the profiles to suit their own needs.

"It's not an exhaustive list," Adelman said. "It's the beginning of a list."

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By Daniel de Vise  | January 25, 2011; 9:15 AM ET
Categories:  Attainment, Research, Students  | Tags:  Lumina degree profile, Lumina report, college degree profiles  
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Comments

That seems a very worthy project. It also opens up room to gauge new form of learning such on online students.

Thanks.

Posted by: knowledgenotebook | January 25, 2011 9:30 AM | Report abuse

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