The Lumina Foundation has now started to define what college is actually supposed to do. On Tuesday the foundation issued a report about what everyone who graduates from college should know and be able to do, sort of. This is apparently the first time anyone’s really attempted to figure this out (at least in this century).

According to an article by Daniel de Vise in the Washington Post:

“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 report is an effort to shore up quality in the machinery of higher education at a time when the Obama administration and others are calling for a sharp increase in output of college degrees…. The document also represents an industry response to mounting pressure on the academy to prove the worth of its product.

Getting the United States to a common understanding of the purpose of college is still going to take awhile, however. Lumina commissioned the report, using four expert authors. According to the foundation:

During the drafting stage, which took several months, [the authors] sought feedback from expert reviewers. In the end, they set forth a set of “reference points” that students should be able to meet in five primary areas of competence: Specialized Knowledge, Broad/ Integrated Knowledge, Applied Learning, Intellectual Skills and Civic Learning.

Such reference points are supposed to apply across fields and through all types of degrees. This is the first stage, defining the knowledge and skills. Eventually, Lumina hopes to measure such skills.

Read the report here.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer