Degree-level expectations (DLEs) define the expectations appropriate for a given degree in terms of subject-specific and generic knowledge and skills that students of the degree programs are expected to achieve upon graduation.
From a pedagogical standpoint, DLEs enable us to assess whether program objectives and learning outcomes are appropriate. Such degree qualifications frameworks do not impose a common content on programs, but articulate general competencies expected of anyone graduating with a degree at the same level. Such frameworks facilitate both comparability and quality assurance. DLEs allow for systematic, ongoing assessment of the quality of the educational experience offered to students at the University of Toronto.
Our Degree-Level Expectations
Degree qualifications frameworks describe the general competencies expected of degree holders at each level of qualification, with a view to articulating threshold degree standards and enabling credentials to be mapped against one another. This is particularly important in the context of a dynamic and ever more varied degree-granting environment. Several provincial and territorial governments have made decisions regarding the level and quality of new degree programs and allowed degree-granting status to a diverse set of institutions. Students completing degrees quite rightly expect to know what the “level” of their degree and what further programs they may be eligible to apply for.
While we have traditionally mapped out credentials on a program-by-program basis, with the increasing diversity of degree providers it is essential that we have greater clarity on what our degree expectations are so that external stakeholders can assess whether their programs may meet them. In a global context, the ability to define degree standards and recognize qualifications is important from both quality and portability perspectives.
Degree qualifications frameworks have been developed in many countries and focus on the expected competencies of graduates at each degree level. The general competencies are not discipline- or subject-specific but are competencies expected of any graduate at a given degree level. They must be broad enough to accommodate not only the current division of disciplinary knowledge and understanding but also to enable innovation, diversity of approach and the development of new fields of knowledge (Randall, 2002).
Learning outcomes focus on what students are expected to know and be able to do in relation to a program of study. They are designed to be assessable, transferable and relevant. Hubball & Burt (2004) also suggest that learning outcomes:
- Help students understand what they can expect to achieve from a program.
- Determine the extent to which learning has been accomplished.
- Communicate curriculum/program goals to a broader community.
The specification of learning outcomes also guides practice in relation to the curriculum, modes of instruction and methods of assessment.
The Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents (OCAV) is affiliated with the Council of Ontario Universities. In 2006, OCAV adopted DLEs and asked for compliance from all member universities beginning in the June 2008 review cycle. The DLEs were incorporated in the Review and Audit Guidelines of the Undergraduate Program Review Audit Committee, which define the goals and process for undergraduate program assessment and review. The guidelines are a framework that can be used as a model by institutions to articulate the performance expectations for baccalaureate/bachelor’s programs of Ontario’s provincially assisted universities.
The OCAV threshold framework for undergraduate degree-level expectations delineate six broad categories:
- Depth and breadth of knowledge
- Knowledge of methodologies
- Application of knowledge
- Communication skills
- Awareness of limits of knowledge
- Autonomy and professional capacity
Within each category, a student is expected to meet some minimum level of intellectual and creative development or to acquire some minimum set of skills in order to qualify for a degree.
Through our assessment and review processes, the University of Toronto demonstrates that students are meeting the DLEs through each of our programs. The University of Toronto Faculties and schools have developed DLEs for their degree programs that meet, and in many cases, exceed the basic OCAV DLEs. These are listed in the table above.
Randall J. Quality assurance: meeting the needs of the user. Higher Education Quarterly, 2002, 56; 2: 188-203.
Hubball J & Burt H. An integrated approach to developing and implementing learning-centred curricula. International Journal for Academic Development, 2004, 9; 1: 51-65.