Why does the U.S. need a Degree Profile?
There is little agreement about what constitutes a degree in the U.S. The number of credits required for a degree varies across institutions and states, and the opportunity for students to take their learning from one institution and receive credit for it at another is limited by a lack of clarity on what a degree represents. Moreover, clarity of degree requirements and pathways will serve to motivate students to enroll and assist them in persisting as their courses of study will take on more meaning as they progress toward a degree. In addition, to meet the increasing demands from accreditors and others for delineation and clarity of student learning outcomes, institutions need a template to work with. Finally, widespread adoption of the Degree Profile creates the opportunity for further innovation such as recognition of prior learning and acknowledgement of the value of work or military-based experiential learning for returning adults.
Who owns the Degree Profile?
At this time, Lumina Foundation intends to use the Degree Profile in a number of settings to test its utility and efficacy. As evidence mounts on how and where it is most useful, the Degree Profile can be revised and reapplied in new settings. At the outset, the drafters constructed a document by focusing mainly on the ideas, not the implementation. Lumina wants to find ways to test the Degree Profile and learn from those test projects.
How is the Degree Profile structured?
The Degree Profile is defined by five areas of student learning—Specialized knowledge, Broad Knowledge, Intellectual Skills, Applied Learning, and Civic Learning. The two types of knowledge suggest that degrees should encourage students to develop expertise in particular disciplines, but that a familiarity with facts and issues outside of their chosen area of study is also critical to attainment of a degree of value for the workforce and additional study.
While each of the five areas is described independently, the areas clearly interact, both in learning and in application. Students must apply their learning in a variety of settings and be able to solve problems that span disciplines and actors.
What can this be used for?
The Degree Profile could be useful for a number of audiences and stakeholders. For accreditors, it could enhance the accreditation process by providing a common template for institutions to report with or against. For students and institutions, the Degree Profile can assist in easing transfer and articulation questions by refocusing the questions of transfer on what students have learned instead of what credits they have accumulated. For all stakeholders, the Degree Profile can serve as a quality-assurance device, ensuring that graduates possess specific knowledge and skills that employers and policymakers often are unclear about. For faculty, the Degree Profile provides a template for curriculum development as it suggests how skills developed in courses and programs can be “ratcheted” from one degree level to the next.
How is this transformative?
The Degree Profile continues the evolution of the American higher education system from a focus on what is taught to a focus on what should be learned. Because the learning must be demonstrated through tasks designed and administered by faculty, degrees based on learning become evidence-based in their origins. In other words, it becomes clear what students should know and be able to do, and it also becomes clear how these things are defined by degree level. The “ratcheting” of the skills, knowledge and abilities by degree level in the Degree Profile clarifies the differences between degree levels—clarity that is lacking in the current system.
How does the Degree Profile make sense of differences and not lead to standardization?
The Degree Profile, in fact, is an opportunity for institutions to demonstrate what makes them different from their peers and competitors. By defining student learning along the lines the Degree Profile delineates, institutions can make clear statements about their approach to and priorities in educating their students. Moreover, for institutions that have excelled in developing and delivering student learning outcomes, the Degree Profile allows them to turn this implied excellence into an explicit statement of accomplishment. As the general public and many other stakeholders continue to struggle with the value and importance of higher education, it becomes increasingly important to be clear about a degree’s meaning—about what the degree shows that its holder knows and is able to do as a result of his or her studies.
Does the Degree Profile address labor market issues?
The Degree Profile deals with many student learning outcomes with relevance to employers and utility in the workforce. Many of the outcomes described here are among those that employers frequently demand of graduates and frequently lament that institutions often fail to deliver in their graduates. In addition, the Degree Profile strives to take skills and knowledge not regularly associated with workforce readiness and frames them as outcomes that, in fact, are applicable in workforce settings. The Degree Profile suggests value for the fields that aren’t readily associated with the professions.
Why does this not deal with ethics, tolerance, teamwork, etc.?
Institutions should take the lead in defining which of these elements they deal with, both within the curriculum and in a co-curricular fashion. The diversity of American postsecondary institutions suggests that one approach to issues such as these does not serve the missions of all institutions equally. Moreover, some may argue that these skills and abilities are not integral to obtaining a degree, or that the level of their importance varies by degree and institution priorities. Their absence from the Degree Profile is not to suggest that they are not important. Rather, it is intended to suggest that individual institutions are best positioned to determine how to address and deliver them as student learning outcomes.
What is the relationship to the “Common Core”?
While no explicit relationship exists, the Degree Profile does provide a starting point to examine the alignment between the Common Core Standards for K-12 education and what college-ready students should know and be able to do. The Degree Profile is different in that it is discipline neutral. The Degree Profile outlines what all degree holders should know and be able to do.
What is the relationship to other learning outcomes work?
The Degree Profile was constructed using hundreds of sources of previous work on student learning outcomes in the United States and abroad. Much of what is contained in the Degree Profile has already been identified in some of the seminal works on student learning in the last three decades. The Degree Profile provides opportunity to consolidate this important work and positions institutions and other stakeholders to use what has already been learned to inform their planning and practice.
What is the relationship with Tuning?
While both Tuning and the Degree Profile focus on student learning outcomes, and they share a partial focus on cross-disciplinary competence, these two elements of the Bologna reforms are significantly different. Tuning is a discipline-driven, faculty-led approach to defining student learning for degrees in a given discipline. Faculty members define what should be learned, test those definitions with stakeholders, including employers, and refine their approaches, all within their discipline. The Degree Profile, and all qualifications frameworks, operates regardless of discipline, stating the levels of student learning irrespective of the student’s choice of discipline. The Degree Profile, a more administrative approach to defining learning, suggests what all associate degree holders should know and be able to do, whether they study nursing, history or business, for example. Tuning begins with the discipline, and answers the question of student learning specific to that discipline. Tuning could reasonably be applied as a way to assure that the delivery of the Degree Profile competencies are being achieved in the curriculum.
Why didn’t the Degree Profile consider more advanced degrees?
At Lumina’s request, the drafters of the Degree Profile worked where the need for clarity was greatest—at the associate and bachelor’s degree levels. The master’s level became a natural piece of the work because, after some reflection, it became clear that, in order to define the bachelor’s degree, the drafters needed to determine where the master’s degree began. Doctoral studies, largely defined by their original research component, as well as first professional degrees, have been deferred, or left for others to grapple with.
What are next steps and how can I participate?
With the Degree Profile beta version, Lumina will embark on several projects to test and refine it. All who are interested in being part of this work should contact Foundation. We continue to look for places to explain the Degree Profile and the need for the work of student learning outcomes, and we continue to look for partners and allies. If you would like a Lumina Foundation representative to speak to your organization or meeting about the Degree Profile, we would be pleased to do so. In addition, if you are using the Degree Profile at your institution, please let us know so we can learn more about your story.