It’s time to “boldly go” beyond the credit hour, writes Allen Goben, president of Heartland Community College in Illinois. In a series of meetings, Goben asked faculty, continuing education professionals and education, business and industry leaders to imagine starting a higher education system from scratch. They suggested replacing credit hours with assessment of learning outcomes. Students could “stack” learning modules, courses, certificates and degrees as they move toward their goals.
• A robust learning and prior learning assessment structure would be developed . . . Students who already have certain knowledge or skills would be allowed to move on to other learning experiences . . .
• If needed, lower testing fees would be used to document already-acquired knowledge and skills while comparatively higher fees would be charged for full instruction and instructional support, so that people and organizations offering these services would be able to sustain themselves.
• A thorough career and interest inventory and advising structure would fuel all goal setting, planning and monitoring, as well as adjustments in student learning and progress toward eventual career, college and life success.
• A tremendous mentoring program would anchor the approach where classroom efforts, lab experiences and self-guided tutorials would be complemented by apprenticeships, internships and one-on-one and/or small group mentoring.
• All of education would be built around the learner and learning needs, and this would require a high degree of interaction and personalization as each learner’s needs were explored and supported.
If higher education were based on learning outcomes, there’d be no need for the traditional “silos of liberal arts, career/technical/vocational education, allied health and continuing education,” concludes Goben.
“Time-based units were never intended to be a measure of student learning,” writes Amy Laitenen of New America Foundation in The Curious Birth and Harmful Legacy of the Credit Hour.
“If credit hours truly reflected a standardized unit of learning,” students wouldn’t have so much trouble transferring credits from one college to another, she writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
. . . colleges routinely reject credits earned at other colleges, underscoring their belief that credit hours are not a reliable measure of how much students have learned. If higher education doesn’t trust its own credits, why should anyone else?
. . . Without broader agreement about learning outcomes, credits and the value of degrees will remain opaque. Measuring time is easy, but measuring learning is hard. . . . Those in higher education must roll up their sleeves and commit to the hard work of figuring out together what it is they expect students to know and how best to meaningfully assess what they have learned.
Some colleges are experimenting with the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile, which creates a framework for what students should know and be able to do, regardless of discipline. Lumina also has created Tuning, a process for faculty to “fine-’tune’ their expectations and make them clear to students, other institutions, and employers,” writes Laitenen.
. . . federal policy can help catalyze such efforts by leveraging the government’s authority to use financial aid—a huge incentive for institutions—to pay for learning. Today the multibillion-dollar federal financial-aid system runs on the credit hour. And it gets only what it pays for: time.
Richard Schur, an associate professor of English at Drury University, likes the credit, he writes, also in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Education is a process, not a destination,” Schur writes. It’s “not reducible to a set of facts or skills.”
My paradigm for teaching comes from Socrates. What is interesting about Socrates is that he doubted his wisdom, so he interrogated those who claimed to possess competency, experience, and knowledge. What he frequently learned was that those who claimed to have the answers rarely did. . . . the Socratic dialogue, imitates what should be happening in the classroom, with its give and take between student and teacher.
I know that the critics of the credit hour will point out how the example of Socrates illustrates precisely what is wrong with the existing model. First, Socrates did not have clear learning objectives for his students; his dialogues meander all over the place. Second, there was no outcome assessment, so we are not sure what, if anything, his interlocutors actually learned from these sessions. Third, this would be a very costly model to implement, especially with all the feasting and drinking. Fourth, this kind of education seems to privilege a life of luxury and wealth, which does not match the backgrounds of today’s students. Last but certainly not least, it is not clear that any of Socrates’ students ever got jobs, probably violating the “gainful employment” rule.
Time matters, argues Schur. It takes time “to have conversation, work on building student habits, develop relationships, and to try to make students into good citizens.”
Ten community colleges have joined the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Roadmap Project, which is funded by the MetLife Foundation.
The Roadmap Project helps community colleges create “robust and proactive programs of academic support—tied to expected learning outcomes—that engage students at entrance and teach them, from the outset, how to become active partners in their own quest for educational success.”
Joining phase two are: Alamo Colleges (TX), Brookdale Community College (NJ), Chattanooga State Community College (TN), College of the Canyons (CA), Community College of Allegheny County (PA), Community College of Baltimore County (MD), Manchester Community College (CT), Massachusetts Bay Community College (MA), Monroe Community College (NY) and Wallace State Community College (AL).
Community colleges across California are facing accreditation sanctions “largely a result of the state cutting funding for several years as the federal government has stepped up performance standards,” reports AP. City College of San Francisco, College of the Redwoods in Eureka and Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo are one step from losing accreditation. Others are in earlier stages of the process. Here’s the full list.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, a division of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, has put 10 campuses on the midlevel “probation” status and another 14 on the low-level “warning” status. There are 112 community colleges in the state.
“The problems colleges have run into with accreditation are abnormally acute at this point in time in California,” said David Baime, a senior vice president with the American Association of Community Colleges.”The colleges in California have been subject to such savage budget reductions that it has placed institutions under a great deal of financial and administrative strain. I think that’s a big part of the issue for the colleges.”
.Colleges need accreditation to accept federal financial aid, offer courses with transferable credit, participate in league sports and award diplomas. Without accreditation, many schools would shut down for lack of students.
The federal government now requires colleges to show “learning outcomes” to earn accreditation, notes AP. As expectations have gone up, state funding has declined by 12 percent in the last three years. It will fall another 7 percent if voters reject a tax increase on the November ballot.
California community colleges charge low fees compared to the rest of the nation, even with recent increases, and grant many fee waivers to low-income students. Completion rates are low.
Facing the threat of closure, City College of San Francisco has cut 700 classes to balance the budget, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The new mission statement will drop ”lifelong learning, life skills and cultural enrichment” from the college’s list of primary goals.
More colleges are looking at competency rather than class time in awarding credits, reports the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
In some cases, colleges add competency measures to traditional courses. For example, Delaware County Community College (DCCC) in Pennsylvania identifies the learning outcomes expected for each course as well as the competencies expected of degree earners. These range from mastering reading, writing, speech, math and technology to developing a “concept of self” and appreciating diversity.
At DePaul University’s School for New Learning (SNL), students can demonstrate they’ve mastered the competencies required for a degree by preparing portfolios showing their prior learning or taking courses.
At Western Governors University (WGU), there are no required courses, just required competencies. Students gain knowledge and skills on their own, with the help of faculty mentors, but they can demonstrate competencies at their own pace and earn a degree based on what they have learned from a variety of sources, including work and other life experiences.
Arizona’s Rio Salado College, which has a huge online enrollment, incorporates competency assessment into each course.
Assessed learning outcomes are critical thinking, writing, information literacy, reading, and, recently adopted, sustainability.
Both DCCC and Rio Salado offer a quality guarantee: If a graduate’s skills or competencies do not meet the expectations of employers or, for DCCC, transfer baccalaureate institutions, the student may enroll for more coursework at no charge.
Last week, the University of Wisconsin announced a flexible degree program:
The unique self-paced, competency-based model will allow students to start classes anytime and earn credit for what they already know. Students will be able to demonstrate college-level competencies based on material they already learned in school, on the job, or on their own, as soon as they can prove that they know it.
The goal is to make a college degree “significantly more affordable and accessible to substantially more people.”