Proposed Profiles Set New Way to Define Degrees

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A new “degree profile” that proposes standards of critical thinking and knowledge that should be associated with earning associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees was released today by the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education.

The proposed standards aren’t standard general knowledge tests, but processes and abilities that should be attained at various degree levels in the areas of specialized knowledge, broad/integrated knowledge, applied knowledge, intellectual skills and civic learning.

In addition to proposing the standards, Lumina will fund programs to test them. Officials said they are conferring with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the Council of Independent Colleges and the Higher Learning Commission and various other accreditors and major organizations about grants to test the degree profile.

Lumina, which specializes in enrolling and graduating more people from college, embarked on defining what various degrees should represent as a way to establish a uniform level of quality in education and a way to ensure “the quality of degrees offered by new providers and delivery mechanisms.”

Until now, determination of such a standard has been elusive in the United States. Attainment of various degrees is based primarily on the number of credit hours earned.  But even what constitutes a credit hour has been challenged with the advent of online education.

While accrediting agencies set standards for what a college offers, and program accreditation groups try to determine if the proper instruction is being offered, there currently is no way to measure the level of accomplishment for various degree levels, across different majors and fields.

“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,” Jamie P. Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation, said in a statement.

The authors of The Degree Qualifications Profile – Clifford Adelman, Peter Ewell, Paul Gaston and Carol Geary Schneider – took several months to draft the standards and sought information from expert reviewers.

“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,” said Schneider, president of the American Association of Colleges & Universities.

The authors describe the interconnection of the various standards as a five-sided spider web, with the attainment levels linked in ladder-like fashion to their five defined areas of knowledge.