Questions and concerns


The following issues and concerns about the DQP, raised by faculty, academic administrators and commentators, are summarized here in boldface, with brief responses following. Some items refer to issues that are addressed in the text of the DQP but may be imperfectly understood. Others are not covered in the text.

Q: Some skepticism has been expressed as to why the U.S. should follow what Europeans have done in their various qualification frameworks.

The iterative process of DQP development was purposefully designed to include an ever-expanding universe of contributors.

Both Tuning and the DQP were informed by efforts of other nations, but did not copy them. In the absence of a ministry of education, too, our efforts — both in the initial construction and execution of the DQP — in the U.S. are entirely voluntary. What one finds in Europe are (a) European Union qualifications framework (EQF) from pre-school to doctoral levels in eight steps, (b) national degree qualifications frameworks from pre-school to doctoral levels in 10-14 steps in countries such as Ireland, Scotland, England/Wales/Northern Ireland, and Denmark, (c) a higher education qualifications framework (Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area, or QFEHEA) endorsed by 47 Bologna Process participants, and (d) individual higher education qualifications frameworks in such countries as the Netherlands and Germany. This is obviously a far more complex — and fixed — map than the single, continually evolving DQP with all its potential variations.

Q: Some skepticism also has been expressed as to the authorship and sponsorship of the DQP, namely questioning the authority of a small group of writers and the purposes of sponsorship by Lumina Foundation.

One has to initiate any project such as this with a manageable group of people who have studied and led in the world of U.S. higher education for a long time. The iterative process of DQP development was purposefully designed to include an ever-expanding universe of contributors — and has done just that. Lumina Foundation has no hidden agenda. Both Tuning USA and the DQP are part of its sponsorship of efforts to clarify and improve the quality of U.S. higher education. Lumina did not provide any specific instructions to its core group of DQP writers.

Q: The DQP, we are told by some, is a document designed for legislators to impose standards on institutions of higher education.

The design and development of the DQP has been led from within higher education, principally by faculty and their leaders. Neither state nor federal legislators have been consulted at all, and their principal concerns (e.g., with college costs and degree completion) are not those of the DQP.

Q: Institutions of higher education are increasingly being asked by their regional and specialized accreditors to include student learning outcome indicators. How does the DQP differ from this, and is the DQP a duplication of effort?

The iterative process of DQP development has already included three of the six regional accreditors (WASC, HLC of North Central and SACS) and the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors in exploring ways in which DQP structure and language of proficiencies might be used by institutions and programs within those regions.

Q: Why is the DQP not just another name for General Education, and since we have Gen Ed at our school, with requirements that must be completed in the first two years, why do we need something else?

First, the DQP applies to the entire degree, not just to a portion of the degree. Second, it has nothing to do with specific course requirements (course equivalents are not proxies for proficiency); it consists of summative — not formative — judgments of proficiencies. Third, the proficiencies it articulates can be demonstrated at any time — on entry to college and at any time in a student’s academic career at the degree level indicated. In relation to general education, demonstrations of proficiency are not confined to “the first two years.” The “broad and integrative learning” proficiencies are further developed and integrated both at the bachelor’s and master’s levels.

Q: Would individual faculty members be responsible for addressing in their courses all (or even a majority) of the DQP proficiency statements selected and/or modified by their institutions?

No. Many of the proficiency statements simply do not apply or would be nearly impossible to execute in some fields.  Individual faculty members may feel comfortable addressing only three or four proficiencies in the courses they teach. The reason for teams and collaboration in the design and implementation of a local version of the DQP is to ensure that all of the proficiencies will be covered by more than one faculty member and in more than one place in the curriculum at each degree level.

Q: Most students in our school concentrate in fields that require brain-hand competencies even more than the cognitive proficiencies articulated by the DQP; for example, culinary arts, studio art, music and physical therapy.  Where does one find acknowledgment of brain-hand learning in the DQP?

The DQP as written does not devote any particular section or sub-section to brain-hand proficiencies. However, that does not mean that individual institutions with programs that rely heavily on this mode of learning cannot add an appropriate section under Applied Learning — which is where the cited fields of study are located.

Q: How much time (person-hours) and how many faculty in a typical institution of, let us say, 8,000 students (at any of the degree levels indicated here) will it take to review, discuss, modify and adapt the DQP in such a way that a critical mass of academic staff endorses it and comes to live with it? The question is asked because faculty and administrators are stressed out with other assignments, and it’s unclear how many people can be spared to work on this project.

There is no way to estimate labor in any one environment. The institution has to be clear about what it wants to happen, and the necessary reading, reflecting and meeting cannot be left to a small cadre of enthusiasts. One can employ an entire faculty senate to take a first look at what will be required, and ask that senate to determine whether to move to a second phase. Assuming some form of adoption, the reworking of assignments that flow from a final set of proficiency statements affect all faculty in an activity in which they already engage, and, yes, that takes time. How much depends on the individual faculty member, but if tweaking or creating new assignments is the major “hoop,” it is something that faculty do all the time in the course of their responsibilities and would want to do better in any case.

Q: Given that the DQP has followed a “beta” version and that future editions may reflect further experience and advice, why shouldn’t an institution wait until the DQP is “final” before becoming engaged?

The DQP is “final” — to the extent that any useful and influential resource may be deemed so. From its inception, the DQP has been offered not as a prescriptive statement, but as an effort to capture and clarify an emerging consensus about what degrees mean in terms of student learning. Because that consensus continues to develop, the DQP may continue to evolve as well in response to the experiences of those who find it useful. First-generation adopters enjoy at once the benefits that accrue from use of the DQP and from participation in an important national conversation.

Q: The expectations of the DQP’s proficiency statements are too low [too high]. Our students already fulfill them easily [would require at least twice the time to degree in order to fulfill them].

The DQP process enables institutions to shape the proficiency statements to match their student populations. They could even develop differential challenge level statements for each proficiency. Think a particular proficiency is set too low? Rewrite it to ratchet up the level of challenge! Serve a student population of varying degrees of preparation and varying degrees of commitment to learning? Take targeted proficiency statements, and write three levels of challenge for each (e.g., threshold, exceed, master). Nothing in the DQP is set in stone.

Q: If our institution adopts some version of the DQP, are we endorsing a “wish list,” a set of goals for student learning, or a set of required attainments without which the degree at issue would not be awarded?

Any of these — or some intermediary construction — is possible. That is an institution’s choice. The latter would be truly transformational.

Q: This is a “business model” of higher education under which faculty would, in effect, be “teaching to the test.”

The DQP proficiencies prepare students through and for work on non-routinized problems, judgments, application and creative work. With this goal in view, the DQP emphasizes assignments, not tests, and it is the faculty that creates these assignments, not an external third party. Faculty expertise and judgment stand at the center of the DQP. But the DQP asks that assignments elicit student behaviors that allow faculty to judge whether degree-qualifying proficiencies have been attained. Moreover, the DQP encourages faculty to collaborate in determining where in a course of study specific proficiencies are achieved, practiced and assessed.

Q: We’re in an era of declining resources for higher education and increased student consumer behavior.  We cannot take on a reconstructive DQP in the face of these trends.

The DQP views students as learners, not consumers. In an era of constrained resources, it provides guidance as to which forms of learning should be included in a degree program to ensure students’ readiness for work, citizenship and life, and therefore on the best places to invest resources.

Q: Faculty enthusiasm varies by department, so there is no way an institution can achieve a broad consensus on the use of the DQP.

Try the departments that demonstrate true and critical mass enthusiasm for the notion of degree qualifications and encourage them to engage in a discipline-based version following the Tuning methodology, and making sure to include all relevant DQP elements in the generic section of a Tuning report. Following this procedure would, in time, lead to more of a broad consensus on the use of the DQP than one initially imagined.

Q: The DQP comes off as a checklist for graduation, almost like a degree audit. A parallel record-keeping system would appear the same way. Faculty are not in the business of checking off proficiencies, registrars have not historically been in the business of building prose transcripts, and those who judge a student’s eligibility for a degree award have been traditionally guided by the proxies of specific coursework, grades, credits, residency requirements, etc. What the DQP asks for is a radical change of behavior by all of these parties, and even if everyone endorses the collection of proficiencies as markers of qualifying for graduation, the behaviors will not change, so the whole proposal winds up as an unenforceable wish list.

This is a perceptive critique that should give everyone pause. The DQP process was envisioned as something that would take at least a decade to implement, with much of that time spent in rendering a vision operational, piece by piece.  Faculty, staff, administrators and students have to recognize that the set of degree-qualifying proficiency statements an institution adopts is the strongest and clearest statement of public accountability available. Having said that, a mechanical checklist is not the inevitable consequence here. There are creative ways available to any institution to validate degree eligibility by means other than credits, grades and course proxies. Degree audits can ask questions other than the traditional basics.

Q: If faculty are central to the design and execution of a DQP, with particular attention to the logical harmony between the assignments they give and the student proficiencies they seek to validate, then any move forward with DQP adoption must involve adjuncts, who teach a significant proportion of course offerings. So far, this has not happened, and there is nothing in DQP or discipline-based Tuning designs to involve this major portion of the academic workforce.

Agreed. There is no easy answer, particularly for adjuncts who are not teaching every term, and who may have commitments to multiple institutions, let alone to non-academic work. But adjuncts are usually teaching in large, multi-section courses; they have much to gain in contributing to and using common assignments to assess DQP proficiencies. Moreover, once faculty have clarified their expectations for proficiency development in relation to their programs and courses, they can more readily help adjuncts understand what is expected for their own work, and why.

Q: Students come out of college or community college with debts, a degree, and no job — or a job that is hardly congruent with what they studied. The DQP doesn’t do anything for them on these counts.

True, and the DQP does not address financing, labor market conditions or job placement. These problematic phenomena would exist no matter how an institution of higher education determined that a student earned a degree. However, the DQP does respond directly to employers’ concerns that graduates need better preparation for applying their learning to a wide array of problems and settings.

Q: Institutions of higher education are very different from each other in mission and curricular emphases. You can’t get them to adopt a “one size fits all” statement of learning outcomes such as the DQP.  And not all DQP proficiencies are of equal value — or value at all — to one institution or another.

The only common “size” of a DQP is in the language of its proficiency statements — i.e., beginning with active verbs describing concretely what students actually do so that matching assignments logically follow. In terms of which proficiencies an institution will select or modify, which proficiencies an institution will add to fit its mission, which to ignore completely, there are many potential versions of a DQP.

Integration is a key concept throughout the DQP, and perhaps its best translation in the language of cognitive actions is the verb “synthesize.”

Q: The DQP, as written, explicitly avoids using dead-end nouns such as “ability,” “capacity,” “awareness” and “appreciation” in its proficiency statements on the grounds that these highly generalized concepts do not describe student behaviors and do not lead to the kind of assignments that faculty give to elicit those behaviors so that a student’s proficiency can be judged.  But it also includes its own collection of highly generalized nouns such as “integration” that are just as elusive and detached from cognitive action. What can be done about this?

Granted, integration is a key concept throughout the DQP, and perhaps its best translation in the language of cognitive actions is the verb “synthesize.” “Blend” and “combine” would also work provided that the statement also includes nouns indicating precisely what is to be blended or combined. “Integration” does not mean merely relying on two or more different fields of study or methods; it is an act of constructive intertwining, and that’s what “synthesizing” conveys.

Q: An increasing proportion of coursework in higher education is being delivered online, in fragmented pieces, in massive, open-enrollment courses with thousands of students from many educational backgrounds and countries, and based in servers from single sources, with inconsistent opportunity for feedback, and with limited opportunity for some of the proficiency-qualifying demonstrations mentioned in the DQP (such as field work, exhibits, performances), let alone collaborative learning activity.  How does the DQP apply in this digital world?

First — and the text indicates as much — any version of the DQP is institution-based. So the configuration and phrasing of proficiencies in one institution will not be those of another. Second — and the text also indicates as much — where a student learns X is secondary to the place that validates and/or recognizes the learning. In fact, the delivery source, system and environment are almost irrelevant. It is the institution at which the student is a degree candidate that determines whether proficiencies have been demonstrated. All the more reason to have a DQP as a stable reference point, along with its guidelines for assignments. If an external digital delivery point does not produce acceptable assignments according to the particular DQP an institution has adopted, it can always add other assignments that do the job.

Q: What is the history of the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs)? Did the DQP develop hand-in-hand with these, or did one predate the other?

The Association of American Colleges and Universities developed the LEAP framework for learning in 2005 after a multi-year dialogue that involved faculty and leaders at hundreds of higher education institutions, regional and specialized accreditors, and many employers. In 2009, when Lumina commissioned work on the DQP in response to calls for better clarification of what a degree means in terms of learning outcomes and levels (associate, bachelor’s and master’s), AAC&U joined the author group to help create the DQP, which was published in beta version in January 2011.

Q: Our institution already uses the LEAP ELOs. Isn’t the DQP a duplication of effort?

On the contrary, engaging your faculty, staff and students with the DQP is an ideal next step for institutions to help students successfully achieve the forms of learning — broad knowledge about science, culture and society; strong intellectual and practical skills; personal and social responsibility; and integrative and applied learning — that the LEAP ELOs describe. Unlike the LEAP ELOs, the DQP provides a more detailed framework or roadmap for helping students, faculty and institutions achieve and demonstrate the expected proficiencies. Where LEAP outlines goals for student learning and recommends “high-impact,” high student-effort practices to help students achieve the learning outcomes, the DQP shows an institution how to build those expectations into the design of degree programs at three levels — associate, bachelor’s and master’s. The DQP also provides guidance on building the component parts of the degree in more intentional ways (e.g., general education, major programs, the crosswalks between them). The DQP provides guidelines or reference points describing what students should actually be required to do to develop and demonstrate the proficiencies or learning outcomes that LEAP recommends. Where LEAP describes “essential” student learning, the DQP shows an institution — and transfer partners as well — how to translate those learning goals into program requirements, course assignments and assessments.

Q: The DQP describes itself as a framework for assessing student learning. But we’re already using the AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics to assess student learning. Why should faculty and assessment professionals use the DQP as well?

VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) and the DQP share a common view that the best evidence about student learning outcomes or proficiencies will be found in authentic student work, the work students do in completing assignments and projects, across college courses and degree programs and in field-based contexts such as practicums or service learning. The VALUE rubrics complement the DQP by providing faculty-developed qualitative judgments about students’ level of achievement, from initial or “benchmark” to “capstone” or bachelor’s level, for specific intellectual skills such as ethical reasoning, communication or integrative learning. The DQP, in sum, outlines the kind of tasks students should do to develop expected proficiencies, while the VALUE rubrics address the question of “how well” the student demonstrates key intellectual proficiencies. It’s important to note that the DQP describes many proficiencies, such as core concepts and knowledge required in different fields, that the VALUE rubrics do not address. Institutions will want to use multiple assessments, including their own faculty members’ qualitative judgments, to determine whether students have met all proficiency requirements for the degree.