Executive Summary

shutterstock_47786110With the assistance of the original authors, many expert reviewers and faculty colleagues throughout the U.S., Lumina Foundation now releases its Degree Qualifications Profile. Reflecting years of wide-scale and diverse applications of a beta version, the DQP provides a baseline set of reference points for what students should know and be able to do for the award of associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, regardless of their fields of study.

Though the DQP draws on many earlier statements in its effort to describe what postsecondary degrees should mean in terms of learning outcomes, it seeks to set a new direction for U.S. higher education in the following ways:

  • The student, not the institution, is its primary reference point. The DQP describes what students should know and be able to do as they progress through progressively higher levels of postsecondary study.
  • The DQP presents outcomes for three levels of degrees by articulating increasing levels of challenge for student performance for each of the learning outcomes it frames. (A future edition of the DQP will include doctoral degrees.)3
  • The DQP emphasizes the degree, not the field of study. And yet it implicitly asks faculty to provide field-specific learning outcomes and expectations in their areas of specialized knowledge. Accrediting associations in some fields of study have established such expectations. And the DQP invites and supports an allied process, Tuning, which encourages the development of disciplinary-level outcomes (see Appendix B).   
  • DQP proficiencies are intended not as statements of aspiration for some students, but as descriptions of what every graduate at a given level ought to know and be able to do.
  • DQP learning outcomes employ active verbs (e.g., “identifies,” “categorizes,” “prioritizes,” “evaluates”) because such verbs describe what students actually do to demonstrate proficiency through their assignments (e.g., papers, performances, projects, examinations, exhibits). The DQP avoids nouns such as “ability,” “awareness” and “appreciation” because they do not lead to assessments of proficiency.
  • The DQP provides a qualitative set of important learning outcomes, not quantitative measures such as numbers of credits and grade-point averages, as the basis for awarding degrees.
  • The DQP has developed organically, with many stakeholders testing potential applications over several years. This unique, nongovernmental process has been undertaken voluntarily by faculty and staff of more than 400 institutions engaged in sponsored and independent projects to strengthen student learning.

The DQP differs in important ways from other approaches to accountability in U.S. higher education. For example:

  • Current accountability markers focus primarily on degree-completion data based on numbers of courses or credit hours. While these measures are useful for purposes of record-keeping and transfer, they fail to describe what degrees mean in terms of demonstrated student learning.
  • Many state or system-level accountability strategies rely heavily on measurements derived from standardized test scores, including licensing exams in some fields or retrospective opinions captured through surveys. While standardized tests and surveys may offer indicators useful for some purposes, the DQP offers qualitative guidance both to students and to a society that asks, “So, you hold this degree. What does this mean you know and can do?”
  • Current assessment practice often relies on learning goals developed by each institution individually. The attainment of these goals may then be investigated on average through examination of “samples” of students using various methods — summative examinations (standardized or developed by the institution’s faculty), portfolios, capstone exercises, etc. The DQP proposes a more integrated approach, one focused on the expected and performed accomplishments of all students — not just samples — in the course of multiple teaching and learning experiences.
  • The DQP recognizes that U.S. higher education is in the midst of significant change, challenged to deliver a 21st century higher education system that effectively balances the learning needs of students with the rapidly changing economic needs of the U.S. and indeed the global community. The DQP’s inherent flexibility should make it useful in dealing with a broad array of emerging issues.
  • In response to questions about higher education’s current and future effectiveness, academic administrators and faculty have been able to offer few persuasive answers. The DQP invites — and prepares pathways for — the documentation of student learning in easily understood terms.
  • Faced with the complexity of contemporary curricula in higher education and the many locations and technologies through which curricula are delivered, few students receive adequate guidance on the structure and cumulative force of their learning. The DQP can help them make strategic choices informed by a shared awareness of degree-level outcomes.
  • Recognizing that many faculty members are more likely to work within their departments or fields of study than to work collaboratively with peers in other fields, the DQP calls for wider collaboration among faculty in different disciplines. Working collegially to strengthen teaching strategies and communicate the affinities among disciplines, they will better support students in their efforts to achieve expected proficiencies in all of their studies.     
  • Recognizing and accommodating an increasing variety of higher education providers and modes of delivery, the DQP offers a perspective on proficiencies that transcends providers and learning contexts. The DQP is as applicable to learning assessed outside the framework of courses as it is to traditional, course-based degree programs.

3 Neither professional practice doctorates (e.g., MD, DDS, JD) nor academic doctorates (Ph.D.) are included at this time because of their close focus on specific disciplines. Qualifications for these degrees will be developed for a later edition of the DQP in response to requests from the field. Lumina is also supporting work to develop learning- centered qualifications for sub-associate and other non-degree credentials. This work is part of an effort to explore an overarching credentials framework for the nation.