Three-Year Bologna-Compliant Degrees: Responses from U.S. Graduate Schools (2009)

Ten years ago, in June 1999, a group of 29 European Ministers signed the Bologna Declaration with the goal of establishing the European Area of Higher Education by 2010 and promoting the European system of higher education world-wide. In April 2009, 46 European Higher Education Area Ministers will gather for the fifth biennial EHEA Ministerial Conference, to take stock of this first decade and jointly define goals for the coming years. At this juncture, it is important to look at the changes that have occurred through the Bologna Process in the context of transatlantic exchange, and how they affect the way U.S. higher education institutions are approaching graduate admissions, awarding transfer credit and credit for study abroad, and advancing institutional linkages.

The Institute of International Education (IIE) conducted an online survey of U.S. doctoral-granting universities in early fall of 2008 to examine the following questions:

  • What level of understanding of the Bologna reforms and recognition of Bologna-compliant credentials exists in the United States?
  • More specifically, how are three-year undergraduate Bologna-compliant credentials viewed for admission to U.S. graduate study?

This snapshot survey shows relatively high levels of knowledge about the Bologna Process among survey respondents. Respondents also indicated that graduate admissions staff and graduate deans had a strong grasp of the Bologna reforms. More than half of respondents said their institutions had an official policy in place to guide the admissions response to three-year Bologna-compliant degrees; within this group, a third tended to view three-year Bologna-compliant degrees as equivalent to U.S. four-year degrees, and another third decided equivalency on a case-by-case basis. Respondents felt that the applicant’s preparation for study in the specific field remained a much more important factor in academic faculty decisions than degree length. Yet despite the high levels of knowledge and formalized admissions procedures related to three-year Bologna-compliant degrees, most respondents said that at the moment, few applicants to their institutions hold these credentials.