Competency-Based Education: Adding Value In The Liberal Arts
Career College Central summary:
Despite continued evidence that going to college pays off for graduates in terms of higher wages over the long term, rising tuition costs, student-debt levels, and media reports focusing on recent graduates inability to find jobs mean that the value of higher education is repeatedly questioned and that there is a growing concern regarding the assessment of student learning and college performance. A recent Northeastern University study found that only 38 percent of employers rated the U.S. higher education system as excellent or good at preparing students for the workforce, compared with 62 percent who rated it fair or poor. Another study found that a majority of employers agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major,” a result that would seem to favor liberal arts graduates.
Even with liberal arts schools seeking to provide a comprehensive education, a similar question of value has surrounded the liberal arts as a number of studies have shown that recent graduates from these schools struggle in the job market. For example, a study in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Current Issues found that the unemployment rate for graduates with liberal arts degrees was relatively high compared with other fields, and 52 percent were underemployed in jobs that did not require a college degree. The scrutiny of unemployment rates is compounded by concerns over rising tuition costs, leaving liberal arts colleges with the task of proving their value, even though studies also show that liberal arts degrees pay off over time and that the skills provided by liberal arts programs are highly desired in the workforce. Providing students and graduates with competency-based evaluations based on marketable skills could help clarify their job-readiness to employers and reduce both their unemployment and underemployment rates.
Competency-based approaches to education, focused on demonstrated, marketable skills, have increased in popularity as an innovative method of ensuring that graduates are well prepared for the job market by connecting educational credentials with employer expectations. The approach is focused on what students learn as opposed to the traditional method of the credit hour, a measure of learning based on a specific amount of time. Additionally, competency-based education takes a student-centric approach by allowing students to gain credit for what they already know, reducing costs, and creating a system that is not only more efficient, but more effective at producing a greater amount of degrees at a lower cost. However, this approach can also be extended to schools that use the credit hour in order to evaluate and apply measurable criteria to show student learning in a way that is applicable in the workforce and beyond, as in the case of liberal arts colleges.
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