More than three years ago, the Lumina Foundation unveiled a framework for defining what a college degree means and what graduates should be expected to know and be able to do.
Now, as the foundation makes the case for wider adoption of its rubric, some educators have asked: How do you push for a national set of standards without seeming to impose it from the top down?
The framework, known as the Degree Qualifications Profile, or DQP, was introduced by Lumina as a way to define the range of skills and knowledge students should gain in earning associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree across five key areas: “broad, integrative knowledge,” “specialized knowledge,” ”intellectual skills,” “applied learning,” and “civic learning.”
The standards are intended to apply to every student, regardless of his or her major and field of study. Since 2011, Lumina has tested them at more 400 colleges and universities, in collaboration with faculty members and administrators.
At a meeting in Indianapolis on Wednesday to discuss the framework, a range of administrators, accreditors, and policy makers said that the DQP was already having an effect, leading several colleges that have tested the standards to focus more heavily on student-learning outcomes.
Lumina hopes to continue expanding the program into additional departments at the test institutions—a process it calls “tuning”—by working with individual faculty members to refine their courses based on the DQP standards.
“There’s a big focus on institutions’ taking ownership and making the process very localized,” said Robert M. Shireman, a former Education Department official who is now executive director of California Competes, a nonprofit education-reform group, in a phone interview from his office in California, where he was following the meeting remotely. If the standards “become an imposed external force,” he said, “I think there will be resistance.”
‘Not a Bible’
At Wednesday’s meeting, some faculty members worried about exactly that. They questioned a panel of college administrators about whether the DQP could be applied indiscriminately as it expands.
In response, panelists sought to reassure faculty members that the program had been developed to incorporate their feedback, not simply to evaluate their progress in teaching students.
The DQP competencies are meant to be a “tool for faculty to react to, not a bible for them,” said Elise Martin, associate dean for assessment at Middlesex Community College, in Massachusetts.
For institutions considering using the standards, the timing also has to be right, said Jon M. Young, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Fayetteville State University, in North Carolina.
At Fayetteville State five or six years ago, Mr. Young said, the institution would not have been ready to benefit from the DQP standards. But now, he said, faculty members and administrators increasingly think of their teaching not only in terms of individual courses but also by overall student-learning outcomes.
Mr. Shireman said questions lingered about what the DQP standards would actually look like once they were fully in place at an institution.
“I would like to see a more specific, detailed example of how a school is using DQP,” he said. “So far, it’s hopes and generalities rather than, How is this really working?”
But over all, he added, the DQP standards seem to deal with the larger issues the Lumina Foundation had hoped to tackle—how much are students learning and what is the value of a college education? “I think it’s absolutely a work in progress,” he said.