Utah Colleges, Universities ‘Tune’ Degrees To Align Student Outcomes

Career College Central summary:

  • You have a bachelor's degree in history, but what do you actually know how to do? That's a question that could be asked of a student by a potential employer, and it is one that Utah higher education officials hope to answer through a practice called "tuning," in which colleges and universities work together to establish a common list of expectations and skills for their degree-earning students.
  • "When we tune a degree what we’re asking is, 'No matter where you got it, or who got it, what is it that you have in common?'" Norm Jones, a history professor at Utah State University, said. "We always ask what is it you must understand, that you know and that you must be able to do."
  • Jones said the process of tuning stems from the formation of the European Union, which made it easier for workers to be employed in a country other than the one they reside in. That democratized labor market led to some initial confusion, Jones said, as employers tried to sort through the varying qualifications of multiple nations' education systems.
  • Since 2009, with the help of a $390,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation, Utah's colleges and universities have been involved in the tuning of degrees. The practice is currently limited to the subjects of history, physics, elementary education and math general education, with funding going toward the facilitation of meetings and collaboration between participating staff.
  • Liz Hitch, Utah association commissioner for academic and student affairs, said tuning is a more in-depth counterpart to the state's practice of aligning course requirements and course numbering throughout the state.
  • Faculty in 30 disciplinary areas meet regularly, she said, to determine a common understanding of what a course comprises, meaning a student who completes Chemistry 1010 at USU can expect to be reasonably prepared for subsequent chemistry courses at another school. The practice is currently limited to the subjects of history, physics, elementary education and math general education, with funding going toward the facilitation of meetings and collaboration between participating staff.

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