A new report written by Clifford Adelman at the Institute for Higher Education Policy indicates that the United States Higher Education System needs to adopt some of the features of the Bologna Process. Today, Scott Jaschik’s article at the Insider Higher Ed offers a compelling overview of the report and Adelman’s argument.

Adelman argues that Bologna may push colleges much further toward defining learning outcomes than the Spellings Commission ever tried. While the education secretary’s panel urged colleges to adopt systems to measure outcomes, the emphasis of Bologna — both in defining degrees and credits — is focused on specific outcomes. A bachelor’s degree in engineering should mean that a graduate possesses specific skills X, Y and Z, and so forth.

Link to report here

From the Chronicles of Higher Education News Blog, by Beth McMurtrie, Wed, May 21 2008:

A new report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy argues that the United States, in its quest for accountability in academe, could learn a lot from its neighbors in Europe.

The report, “The Bologna Club: What U.S. Higher Education Can Learn From a Decade of European Reconstruction,” examines in detail the efforts of 49 European nations to harmonize their higher-education systems. The report was written by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education who is now a senior associate at the institute.

Mr. Adelman argues that the Bologna Process, as this decade-long effort is known, offers some common-sense solutions to the struggle to define what students should be learning and to create a better pathway through the higher-education system.

He notes that while public attention has focused mainly on Europe’s development of a new cycle of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees that looks similar to our own, less obvious is the success some countries have had in clarifying the purpose of each degree, and of keeping people within the system. A vast majority of college students in Switzerland and Germany, for example, proceed to earn master’s degrees as well.

A number of European systems provide what Mr. Adelman calls intermediate credentials — akin to associate degrees in the United States — on the path toward bachelor’s degrees. The United States should look positively at the seamlessness of that system, he argues.

The report praises European efforts to define what students should learn at each step along the way: “a statement of learning outcomes and competencies a student must demonstrate in order for a degree at a specific level to be awarded.”

“This is a form of accountability,” Mr. Adelman writes, “worth our serious consideration.”

He is careful, though, to note the difficulties Europe has faced in carrying out those reforms. Only seven countries involved in the Bologna Process have completed national “frameworks” through which it defines those desired learning outcomes.

Mr. Adelman argues that Europe seems to have a more intuitive and sensible approach to defining learning outcomes, as it focuses less on measuring face time with professors than it does on gauging student workload.

“Our primary story,” he writes of the report’s purpose, “is about providing students with clear indications of what their paths through higher education look like, what levels of knowledge and skills will qualify them for degree awards, and what their degrees mean. These are road signs that are sorely lacking now.” —Beth McMurtrie