Minnesota universities to consider changing course requirements

“Tuning” a program puts more emphasis on skills learned than courses taken.
April 12, 2009

Minnesota is one of three states examining a new way to evaluate college degrees that would focus more on skills learned than specific classes taken.
The program, called Tuning USA, is an initiative from the Lumina Foundation for Education. Minnesota will look into re-examining standards in graphic design and biology programs, with the University of Minnesota working in both fields.
The process of “tuning” a program involves shifting priorities away from having to take certain classes, and puts more emphasis on learning certain skills and knowledge.
Lumina Program Director Kevin Corcoran said this process can help students know before going into a program what they can expect to learn during their studies.
“This is what you should know and be able to do by the end of a course,” Corcoran said. “We’re not doing away with courses … at the core, you know after you’ve tuned at that level, you know that everybody who has that degree should be able to do these things.”
There have been no decisions about changes to any programs yet because Lumina is still trying to figure out how much interest there is in tuning.
Tuning a course would help employers know exactly what skills potential employees should have following their schooling, Corcoran said.
Tuning is common in other countries. Through last year, at least 145 universities across Europe have tuned their programs, according to the Lumina Foundation. Latin American countries and others such as Australia and Russia have tuned as well, Corcoran said.
With the backing of $150,000 grants, Minnesota, Indiana and Utah will study the tuning process in the United Sates.
The University will be involved in the process, but schools ranging from liberal arts giant Carleton College to the Minnesota College of Art and Design will also be involved in tuning research, said Cheryl Maplethorpe, director of the financial aid division of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.
Maplethorpe said she hadn’t heard of the tuning process before Lumina presented the Tuning USA program in December 2008.
Study into the tuning project will last through November, when a report showing how much interest there is over shifting priorities among students, graduates, faculty and employers will go back to Lumina, Maplethorpe said.
Should there be enough interest in the program, Maplethorpe said any changes in policy would have to come from the schools themselves.
“I think changing curriculum and that sort of thing would come from the central offices of the institutions,” she said. “I don’t think the Legislature would get involved in that kind of thing.”

-Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter

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