Lumina Foundation for Education today released a proposed version of a Degree Profile, a framework for defining and ultimately measuring the general knowledge and skills that individual students need to acquire in order to earn degrees at various levels, such as associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The Degree Profile is intended to help define generally what is expected of college graduates, regardless of their majors or fields of study. Lumina will fund experiments within a variety of settings.
“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. “This Degree Profile is an initial attempt at that. 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.”
The co-authors of this document, which Lumina commissioned, are Clifford Adelman, Peter Ewell, Paul Gaston and Carol Geary Schneider. During the drafting stage, which took several months, they sought feedback from expert reviewers. In the end, they set forth a set of “reference points” that students should be able to meet in five primary areas of competence: Specialized Knowledge, Broad/ Integrated Knowledge, Applied Learning, Intellectual Skills and Civic Learning. The Degree Profile makes explicit expectations that have been implicit. In so doing, use of the Degree Profile may provide an opportunity to strengthen higher education and the focus on student learning. By offering a clearer understanding of what degrees represent in terms of learning, the Degree Profile could help ensure the quality of degrees offered by new providers and delivery mechanisms.
“The Degree Profile represents perspectives that draw on deep expertise and experience,” said Paul Gaston, a co-author of the Degree Profile and trustees professor at Kent State University in Ohio. “It offers an opportunity for the articulation of a consensus that higher education urgently requires—both for its own purposes and for the visibility the public demands and deserves.”
“The time is right to move the national dialogue about the meaning of a college degree to a new level of shared focus and coherence,” said Carol Geary Schneider, president of the American Association of Colleges & Universities and co-author of the Degree Profile. “The established ‘standards’ that guide so much of our enterprise, are based on an outdated model of accumulated ‘credit hours’ signifying little more than time spent in a set number of formal courses,” she said. “The established system is out of touch with society’s current need for graduates who can adapt and expand existing knowledge and skills to meet new challenges and unscripted problems in every sphere of life—personal, economic, civic, democratic, environmental, global.”
Lumina Foundation intends to fund projects to test and refine the beta version of the Degree Profile. Lumina has been involved in discussions with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and other accreditors and major organizations about grants that will test the Degree Profile. Lumina hopes to get feedback on the content of the Degree Profile, as well as how it might be used in a variety of higher education settings. Grant awards will be announced in coming months. During the course of experimentation, which could take several years, the Foundation will continue to gather stakeholders to review the projects and seek advice on further work.
“This document will not sit on the shelf as have so many other calls for reform and accountability,” said Cliff Adelman, a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy and co-author of the Degree Profile. “Lumina has been very smart here—not merely by issuing a transformational document with concrete, illustrative student learning outcome statements, but simultaneously by recruiting organizations to try it out, and by challenging the rest of higher education to expand, modify and adjust in open feedback forums.”
Lumina Foundation for Education, an Indianapolis-based private foundation, is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college—especially 21st century students: low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners. Lumina’s goal is to increase the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina pursues this goal in three ways: by identifying and supporting effective practice, through public policy advocacy, and by using our communications and convening power to build public will for change.