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What Should College Graduates Know and Be Able to Do? New Lumina Report Provides Framework

What are the expectations of a student graduating with an associate degree? Or a bachelor’s or master’s degree? Answers to these questions are varied and may indicate a need for more clearly defined expectations for postsecondary degree attainment in the United States. This week, the Lumina Foundation released The Degree Qualifications Profile, a framework illustrating “what students should be expected to know and be able to do once they earn their degrees – at any level.”

The Degree Profile suggests specific learning outcomes that benchmark all associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It also proposes much more extensive use of field-work and experiential learning throughout all degrees, aspects that are often present in career technical education. Through its framework, the Lumina Foundation encourages institutes of higher education to increase all students’ skills and experiences in analysis, adaptation, and application. The report particularly emphasizes its application component, describing the importance of “educational experience rich in field-related projects, performances, investigative essays, demonstrations, and other learning-intensive activities.”

The Degree Profile can improve the quality of learning at many levels and for many stakeholders:

  • Curriculum and classroom level: Provides common starting ground and expectations regarding the development of programs, courses, assignments and assessments.
  • College and university level: Provides reference points so that faculty members can better align student outcomes with departmental objectives; Aligns expectations with other colleges and universities, increasing clarity of expectations for prospective students
  • For students and advisers: Provides reference points for degree planning
  • For regional accreditors: Prompts regional accreditors to reach consensus on learning outcomes that is being sought by many leaders and opinion makers
  • For specialized accreditors: Provides a platform for relating disciplinary expectations to institutional ones

While President Obama’s call to increase the number of college graduates in America has been widely publicized, greater attention must be paid to the quality and the meaning of degrees to be conferred upon a record number of students. To increase the quality of degrees at all levels, the Degree Profile helps colleges and universities to make changes in five basic areas: Broad, Integrative Knowledge; Intellectual skills; Applied Learning; Civic Learning; and Specialized Knowledge. Under each area, Lumina identifies specific learning outcomes for each degree (associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees). With the input of two accrediting agencies (Western Association of Schools and Colleges and The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools) and the Council of Independent Colleges, the organization plans to test and make adjustments to the degree profile. For more detailed information, please see the Lumina Foundation website.

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