It’s time to measure learning, not “seat time,” concludes a new report, Cracking the Credit Hour by the New America Foundation. The credit hour is outdated, argues Amy Laitinen.
Colleges often reject credits earned elsewhere, a huge waste of time and money for the 59 percent of students who attend two or more schools.
Seat time assumes a “traditional” student who lives and studies on campus, yet only 14 percent of undergraduates attend full time and live on campus. Meanwhile, more students are taking online courses that let them move at their own pace.
While some students earn credits for little more than sitting in class, millions of professionals who have acquired college-level learning on the job have no way to get credit for their learning.
. . . students who earn credit through programs that assess and award credit for things they already know are more likely to stay in and complete college than those who don’t.
The federal student aid program’s reliance on credit hours has stifled innovation, the report argues. Many “believe that their safest bet, if they want to keep access to federal financial aid, is to do what they have always done: use time to determine credits.”
The report recommends changes in federal policy, such as adopting Western Governors University’s competency-based model for awarding credits. This should “be the norm,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. In addition, the report urges federal experiments with learning-based financial aid, such as aid for credits earned using Prior Learning Assessments or outcomes-based financial aid. Finally, direct assessment of student learning is permitted under the Higher Education Act but has never been used, Laitinen notes.
“In an era when college degrees are simultaneously becoming more important and more expensive, students and taxpayers can no longer afford to pay for time and little or no evidence of learning,” the report concludes.