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Report Urges U.S. Colleges to Adopt Europe’s Higher Education Accountability Reforms


It’s far from certain whether the U.S. higher education accountability movement will see colleges and universities nationally instituting learning standards and other accountability measures. However, one Washington-based higher education policy research organization is taking a hard look at the global restructuring of higher education in recent years and determining what lessons might apply in the United States.

An issue brief by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) entitled, “Learning Accountability from Bologna: a Higher Education Policy Primer,” reports on how the restructuring of 46 European higher education systems since 1999 could yield important policies around student learning that are applicable in the United States.

“The U.S. higher education system, the world’s most complex, is imperfectly struggling with accountability issues, yet the largest restructuring of higher education the world has ever seen has addressed accountability in ways we have not even imagined,” says Dr. Clifford Adelman, a IHEP senior associate and the author of the report.

Under what is known as the ‘Bologna Process,’ some 4,000 institutions enrolling 16 million students, a size similar in scope to that of the U.S. higher education system, are participating in a continent-wide restructuring.

The key goals of the Bologna Process are:

• Every degree is publicly defined so its meaning is known in terms of the demonstration of knowledge; the application of knowledge; fluency in the use of information; the breadth, depth, and effectiveness of communication; and the degree of autonomy gained for subsequent learning.

• There is broad understanding of the differences in performance criteria for associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

• Credits are based on a common standard of student workload — and, in a growing number of countries, individual courses are assigned a level of challenge — so the combination of workload and level guarantees transfer of credits.

• Every student who earns a degree receives, as a supplement to the diploma and a transcript, an official documented summary of the setting, nature, purpose and requirements of the degree and major program — and a description of what the student did to earn the degree. Dr. Anita Nahal, director of Howard University’s International Affairs program, notes, “The mobility across borders and the opportunity to study in standardized equal systems/institutions across Europe would bring the youth in contact with those culturally and ethnically different from them and would hopefully nurture greater cultural appreciation.”

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