Monday, January 31, 2011

Improving College Degrees

The Chronicle of Education reports on a new strategy to ensure that the college degree a student earns—central to the Lampstand criminal reformation process—actually results in advancement of the knowledge and skill of the student, a common sense goal too rarely reached.

An excerpt.

“National conversations about the quality of higher education, as well as efforts to measure what students learn in their college careers, could be aided by developing a common understanding of what degrees mean in the United States, officials at the Lumina Foundation for Education say.

“To that end, the foundation released today a suggested framework for defining the knowledge and skills students need to acquire before earning an associate degree, a bachelor's degree, and a master's degree. Lumina's framework, which it is calling the Degree Qualifications Profile, spells out reference points for what students should be learning and demonstrating at each degree level in five areas: broad, integrative knowledge; specialized knowledge; intellectual skills; applied learning; and civic learning.

“Lumina officials say the degree profile is intended to help define generally what college graduates should know and be able to do, regardless of their majors or fields of study. The authors of the framework, though, were specific about how students should be able to apply what they learn, providing clear outcomes that can be measured. Under the umbrella of "intellectual skills," for instance, the document says that students should show fluency in communication. At the bachelor's level, that includes being able to "conduct an inquiry" in a language other than English with a non-English-language source.

“Colleges and faculty members in individual disciplines could then add to the general framework, identifying additional outcomes specific to the college's mission and to particular fields of study. Lumina says it now plans to test and refine the framework, experimenting with it in a variety of settings.

"Tests of the Concept

“Two regional accreditors of higher education, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools' Higher Learning Commission, and a private-college association, the Council of Independent Colleges, have already agreed to test Lumina's proposed framework. Lumina says it expects to add more partners in coming months and to award grants to support testing of the framework.

“The Western association, which accredits about 160 four-year colleges, plans to build the degree reference points into its handbook for institutions' accreditation reviews, Lumina said. The accreditor will use the degree profile to help outline what colleges should be demonstrating about student learning.”