Thirty-eight states are measuring 11th-graders college readiness, reports the Community College Research Center in Reshaping the College Transition. Some use state exams,while others use the ACT, SAT or community college placement tests. Even more states are expected to start testing when Common Core State Standards’ assessments are available.
Twenty-nine states are using catch-up courses or online tutorials to prevent students from landing in remedial education.
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.
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.
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.”
Measure or Perish, writes Kevin Carey of Education Sector in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Our higher-education system “refuses to consistently measure how much students learn,” Carey writes.
As a result, students have trouble transferring credits.
Credit devaluation, which wastes enormous amounts of time, money, and credentialed learning every year, is rooted in mistrust. Because colleges don’t know what students in other colleges learned, they’re reluctant to give foreign courses their imprimaturs.
It’s easy to exploit the federal financial-aid system for profit by inflating credits. In an attempt to stop this, the U.S. Education Department proposes to use classroom time to define the number of credits a class is worth.
Nearly a third of all college students took online courses last year. Why would anyone define credits in terms of seat time when, increasingly, there are no seats and no fixed learning time? Because they have no other basis for doing so.
Without a way to tell how much students are learning, higher education quality is defined by U.S. News & World Report, Carey writes.
Faculty cultures and incentive regimes that systematically devalue teaching in favor of research are allowed to persist because there is no basis for fixing them and no irrefutable evidence of how much students are being shortchanged.
Academics resist measuring learning, seeing possible assessments “as either gross violations of institutional autonomy or as so crude and imperfect that they require further refinement and study, lasting approximately forever,” Carey writes.
Meanwhile, accreditation has lost credibility. The U.S. Education Department’s “gainful employment” regulations for career colleges defines learning in “purely economic terms, comparing students’ postgraduate earnings with their debt.” How long before that spreads from vocational programs to the rest of higher education?
New psychometric instruments will puncture “the myth that everyone with a college degree actually learned something,” Carey predicts.
The real debate shouldn’t be about whether we need a measuring stick for higher education. We need a debate about who gets to design the stick, who owns it, and who decides how it will be used. If higher education has the courage to take responsibility for honestly assessing student learning and for publishing the results, the measuring stick will be a tool. If it doesn’t, the stick could easily become a weapon. The time for making that choice is drawing to a close.
I think online learning is going to change higher education dramatically. Brick-and-mortar colleges will serve a purpose for 18- to 22-year-old students who can afford the college experience. Many, many adults will want to take a test to prove what they’ve learned in online classes, in independent study or through life experience. We’ll need very good tests to make that work.