VARSITY ADMISSIONS AN EDUCATION BLOG

What Should College Graduates Know

January 30, 2011
What Should College Graduates Know

Years of education, of knowledge, of learning, but what exactly does it amount to? Are college grads actually better at certain tasks than non grads, and how much more qualified are they than non grads?

These questions are continuously asked and are nearly impossible to correctly answer.

But, the Lumina Foundation released a report published in an article in the Washington Post, addressing these exact questions. The report seeks to define what college graduates should be able to do.

It concluded that college graduates, despite field of study, should demonstrate abilities in five areas of competence. According to the study, graduates should have:

1. Highly-specialized knowledge in their field(s)

2. Broad, general knowledge across multiple fields

3. The ability to practically apply what they learned

4. Intellectual skills of analysis and communication

5. Abilities to engage in society and discourse

Other experts objected to these abilities, stating that colleges should create their own means of measuring the quality of their degrees through project descriptions. They believe that graduates should be tested on how well they can apply the knowledge they learned to real-world examples.

One expert believes that music graduates, if asked, should be able to compose a song with lyrics and music in German leider, drawing on Renaissance poetic form. Other graduates should be able to perform similar tasks, competently, in their respective fields.

The Lumina Foundation, based in Indianapolis, frequently publishes journals and reports about the educational world.

"There's no generally accepted definition of what quality is in higher education," said Jamie Merisotis, president of Lumina.  "You've got to have a shared understanding of what a degree represents."

The Lumina Foundation is attempting to improve the quality of each college degree, where as the Obama administration and others seek to increase college output, calling for more college graduates. The foundation, however, is putting pressure on colleges to enhance the quality of the education a student receives.

The U.S. lags behind other colleges in measuring the true value of college degrees. Many other nations have adopted universal standards that measure their graduates’ skills. The U.S. simply measures the value of college degrees in “seat time,” or the amount of time a student spends inside the classroom, while receiving passing grades.

"All we know that a bachelor's degree means now is you earned 120 credit hours with a 2.7 GPA and 40 credits in your major. That's all we know," said Clifford Adelman, a senior associate with the Institute for Higher Education Policy and co-author of the Lumina report.

Most experts believe that Lumina’s efforts are a strong starting point for defining what college graduates should be able to do. Many believe that this could help improve the overall quality of higher education.