A Disruption Grows Up?

Competency-based education could be a game-changer for adult students, probably more so than MOOCs. Yet despite the backing of powerful supporters, colleges have been reluctant to go all-in because they are unsure whether accreditors and the federal government will give the nod to degree programs that look nothing like the traditional college model.

The logjam may be breaking, however. Southern New Hampshire University is poised to launch a $5,000 online, competency-based associate degree that would be the first to blow up the credit hour — the connection between college credit and the time students spend learning. A regional accreditor has signed off on Southern New Hampshire’s “direct assessment” method, and the university will soon apply for federal approval.

Meanwhile, about 20 institutions have joined Western Governors University with competency-based offerings that are linked in some way to the credit hour, many of them new programs, according to the Lumina Foundation. Another dozen colleges hope to get there soon.

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