Why Lumina's Worried About the Quality of Academic Credentials

Lumina Foundation's main agenda point — to "increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60% by the year 2025" — is a laudable one. There's no immediately obvious way of labeling this a bad idea. But what if the effort lands 59% of people with associate degrees in Video Game Appreciation, $90,000 worth of student debt, and severely underdoggish chances of procuring gainful employment?

Lumina is keyed into this possible downside. Programs like Tuning USA, which Lumina funds by proxy through the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) of Encinitas, California, are born of this concern, among others. Tuning USA works with students, faculty, administrators, employers, and other stakeholders to establish a consensus on what a given academic credential can guarantee regarding the abilities of those who receive it. This process often means downplaying the significance of GPA and test scores in the face of simple skill tests.

According to a 2009 release from Lumina, Tuning seeks to establish consensus surrounding the following:

...subject-specific knowledge and transferable skills that students must demonstrate upon completion of a degree program.... The objective is not to standardize programs offered by different institutions but to better establish the quality and relevance of the degrees in various academic disciplines.

The foundation initially piloted Tuning USA in 2009. Although Europe, South America, and Africa have experimented with the program, this was its maiden U.S. voyage. Lumina gave the states of Utah, Indiana, and Minneapolis $150,000 each in 2009 to experiment with the process. Encouraging noises from state education officials returned.

Lumina then outsourced the project to IEBC in 2010. Included with the deal was a pat on the back and $875,000. In 2013, Lumina renewed and expanded its support of Tuning USA through IEBC with an additional $1 million.

When resources and opportunities to attend college proliferate, huckster institutions of all stripes offering cut-rate educations at absurd prices are seldom far behind. For proof, see any of the latest GI Bill tuition scandals. It behooves Lumina, along with anyone else pushing the increase-in-college-enrollment agenda, to make at least a symbolic attempt to curb their efforts' inevitable byproducts.

Why, grantseeker, should you hesitate to profit from such ailing consciences? Why should IEBC have all the fun?