Taking The Direct Path

Career College Central summary:

  • Scores of colleges are gearing up to offer new competency-based degrees. But some college leaders are confused about whether the U.S. Department of Education remains supportive of a new form of competency-based education that does not rely on the credit hour standard. This approach is called direct assessment — as in directly measuring student knowledge and learning, rather than linking it to seat time and grades. Institutions that seek to try direct assessment first must get a green light from the department and their accreditor in order to qualify for federal financial aid.
  • Last March the feds issued a Dear Colleague letter with a positive take on direct assessment that also offered guidelines for interested colleges. Shortly thereafter, College for America, a subsidiary of Southern New Hampshire University, got the department to sign off on associate degrees that are completely untethered from the credit hour. Capella University was next with direct assessment programs that earned federal approval last August.
  • Two public universities have also made their case to the department. Last year Northern Arizona University submitted an application for direct-assessment degrees. And the University of Wisconsin System followed last month. However, Northern Arizona hit a snag with its application. The university last year created self-paced, online degree tracks that are competency-based. Its regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, granted approval to the university’s new “Personalized Learning” bachelor’s degrees, which are in computer information technology, liberal arts and small business administration.

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