Lederman, D. (2010) Borrowing from Bologna? Inside Higher Education, September 13
This is a report of an interesting initiative by the Lumina Foundation in the USA to establish what they call a draft of a “degree qualifications profile” that defines what graduates should be able to know and do when they receive associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, no matter where they earn them.
The Lumina Foundation’s initiative is influenced by one aspect of the Bologna agreement in Europe, which aims to have a uniform system of degrees across European countries. The reason behind Lumina Foundation’s initiative is that many of the same issues that Europe sought to attack — great variation in types and quality of institutions, concerns about the lack of transfer of credit across institutions, and questions about the higher education system’s performance and productivity – also apply equally well to the United States, with its very diverse higher education system.
My reading of the Lumina document, which is still a draft, is that it is a perfectly reasonable attempt to define broadly what you could expect from anyone obtaining different levels of qualification, such as an associate, bachelors, masters or doctoral degree, in terms such as applied learning, knowledge and skills. The main difference with the current system is that degrees in the Lumina document are defined by types of outcomes, not by the number of credit hours (although in Europe, this is still an important component of degree profiles.) However, the Lumina document does not address the issue of variations in quality within profiles (but then, nor does the Bologna process). In other words, the aim is to define minimum requirements in terms of varying levels of outcomes for different levels of degrees.
This is obviously a useful step for instance in establishing credit transfer agreements, but I think it is naive to think that this will lead to automatic credit transfer between two institutions as varied as Harvard and Lake Wobegone State University, even though they would probably have similar degree profiles. However, it might work between Lake Wobegone State University in Michigan, and Bart Simpson State University in Minnesota, which I suppose is progress. What is staggering is that there is still no agreement in North America (and I suspect elsewhere) as to exactly what a degree means, in terms of what people know or can do when they have got their degree. And wouldn’t a well constructed e-portfolio do this better than a degree transcript?