California eyes exam-based university

A proposed “New University of California” would award credits to students who pass exams proving mastery, regardless of whether they learned the material in class, online, at work or whatever, reports KQED.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, proposed AB 1306 to expand access to college degrees.  New University would not offer classes, hire professors or charge tuition, but would be empowered to grant degrees if a student qualified for enough academic credit in a course of study. Students would pay a fee to take an exam.

California’s community colleges already offer course credit by exam, said an official in the chancellor’s office.

Wilk’s idea would “cheapen” state university degrees, responds Eric Grunder, opinion editor of the Stockton Record.

. . . before we set a whole new “university,” let’s better fund the community colleges, CSU and UC systems we have, including opening more seats and helping students pay to sit in them.”

College will be “better and drastically cheaper” in the near future as higher education is “unbundled,” argues Vance Fried in College 2020.  “Online 2.0 takes today’s version of online education to another level by making the whole curriculum competency-based and using self-paced courses that eliminate the need for a course instructor,” Fried writes.

Western Governors University, which offers low-cost competency-based degrees, is the first step, he writes. Southern New Hampshire University also is launching an affordable Online 2.0 degree.

Feds OK aid for competency programs

Students earning credits for competency will be eligible for federal student aid, confirmed the U.S. Education Department in a letter this week. The “department is poised to approve an application by Southern New Hampshire University to award aid based on the direct assessment of student learning,” notes the Chronicle of Higher Education.

By clarifying that colleges may apply under the “direct assessment” provision—and encouraging them to do so—the Education Department is signaling a willingness to move beyond “seat time”—the time students spend in class—in awarding aid. That has important implications for new models of education, supporters of the provision say.

“It moves away from time as a proxy for learning, and that is key,” said Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University.

In the letter, David A. Bergeron, acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education, said competency-based programs “have the potential for assuring the quality and extent of learning, shortening the time to degree/certificate completion, developing stackable credentials … and reducing the overall cost of education.”

Martha J. Kanter, undersecretary of Education, told reporters the department will “be very careful” not to approve aid for fraudulent programs. Colleges will have to link their competencies to credit hours and earn accreditors’ approval of the equivalencies.

MOOC-ing the college cartel

Online learning will revolutionize higher education and liberate students from ever-rising college costs, predicts Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, in an interview with MIT Technology Review.

Here’s what I think it could look like in five years: the learning side will be free, but if and when you want to prove what you know, and get a credential, you would go to a proctoring center [for an exam]. And that would cost something. Let’s say it costs $100 to administer that exam. I could see charging $150 for it. And then you have a $50 margin that you can reinvest on the free-learning side.

 Khan has a book out called The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined,

What’s a credit worth? Moves to give credits to students for taking massive open online courses (MOOCS) or demonstrating competency are threatening the college cartel, writes Jeff Selingo on The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The American Council on Education will review some free online courses offered by elite universities through Coursera and may recommend that other colleges accept credit for them.

Right now, it is easy for most institutions to deny students who ask to transfer credits from their local community college or a for-profit provider, such as StraighterLine. They just say the quality is not up their standards.

But what happens when students arrive at the registrars’ office with credit-bearing courses from professors at Stanford, Penn, and Princeton? What will the excuse be then to reject the credits—that the courses were free? Such an excuse might finally expose the true reason many colleges refuse to accept transfer credits: They want students to pay them tuition for a class, not another institution.

In addition, Southern New Hampshire University’s accreditor has approved its new competency-based associate degree, which is based on students’ knowledge rather than time in class. Students will pay no more than $2,500 a year. The university is working with local employers to design the curriculum.

Western Governors University pioneered the idea. Now, “Southern New Hampshire is about to show whether the idea can work within the walls of a traditional university,” Selingo writes. Northern Arizona University and the University of Wisconsin system also are developing competency-based degrees.

UW’s Flexible Option will let adult students “earn college credit by demonstrating knowledge they have acquired through coursework, military training, on-the-job training, and other learning experiences.”

Competency credentials ‘blow up’ the credit hour

Southern New Hampshire University plans a $5,000 online, competency-based associate degree that would “blow up the credit hour — the connection between college credit and the time students spend learning,” reports Inside Higher Ed. A regional accreditor has approved the university’s “direct assessment” method. The university will apply for federal approval to qualify students for federal aid.

In competency-based models, students demonstrate their learning through assessments, notes Inside Higher Ed. “If the tests lack rigor and a link to real competencies, this approach starts looking like cash for credits.”

Southern New Hampshire’s “College for America” will start with an associate degree in general studies and add competency-based bachelor’s degree programs.

The university will assess 120 competencies for the associate degree. Lumina’s Degree Qualifications Profile, which attempts to define what degree holders should know and be able to do, served as the basis for defining those competencies, along with the university’s general education goals. Other sources were used as well, like the U.S. Department of Labor’s competency pyramids.

Competencies are broken into 20 distinct “task families,” which are then divided into three task levels. For example, the “using business tools” family includes tasks like “can write a business memo,” “can use a spreadsheet to perform a variety of calculations” and “can use logic, reasoning and analysis to address a business problem.”

When students pass tests on the competencies within a family, “they will be deemed to have the knowledge and skills necessary to pass a 100- or 200- level, three-credit course,” according to the university.

The university is partnering with large employers, including ConAgra Foods and the City of Memphis, which will steer workers to the university’s College for America.

Twenty other colleges and universities are working with Western Governors University — also online and competency-based — on degree programs that will let students earn relatively low-cost degrees at their own pace and in their own homes.  Competency-based programs are expanding, according to a Lumina report.