Trending Now: Postsecondary

In January’s  “Trending Now: Postsecondary” post, Kristen Vogt called attention to a Center for American Progress (CAP) report that pointed to competency-based credentials as a way to provide employers with more confidence in the capabilities of higher education graduates. Policy research and advocacy organizations like the CAP aren’t alone in their interest in moving away from the credit hour: in response to December’s call from the US Department of Education for ideas about experimenting with competency-based models, 17 institutions – including NGLC Breakthrough Models grantees and Breakthrough Models Incubator participants – recently released a joint paper outlining several potential areas in which to develop and test new policies:

  • Rethinking federal definitions of “attendance,” for instance by developing ways other than time to measure educational activities that count as “substantive.”
  • Separating the disbursement of federal financial aid from time-based measures, for instance by providing that aid only to students who demonstrate the knowledge and skills milestones needed to earn their degrees.
  • Enabling the use of federal financial aid for hybrid programs combining competency-based and traditional time-based approaches. Presently, students are free to combine credit-hour-based and competency-based courses, but they can receive federal financial aid only for one or the other. Were this requirement to be waived, an institution could experiment with allowing a mixed approach in which a student would be able, for instance, to receive aid for up to one competency-based course per semester. 

In addition to setting forth these ideas, the joint paper opens with a discussion of what “competency-based education” actually means and implies. You might find this introductory discussion helpful in distinguishing the widely used term “competency-based education” and the more specific term “direct assessment,” wherein demonstration of learning replaces time-based credit. 

Among the institutions that joined forces to develop the responses presented in this paper are three NGLC Breakthrough Models grantees – Southern New Hampshire University, creator of “College for America;” Northern Arizona University, home of the Personalized Learning Division, and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, which expects to launch “Direct2Degree” this year. Other collaborators were among the first cohort of NGLC’s Breakthrough Models Incubator: Charter Oak State College, SUNY Empire State College, and the University of Maryland University College.

Another noteworthy development this month: the annual release of the Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition, a joint project of the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Institute (ELI). Each year, experts worldwide collaborate to produce this analysis, which explores a very wide range of emerging technology trends to determine which ones will have the greatest influences on the practices of teaching, learning, and inquiry in postsecondary education over the next few years. Technologies that the report sees as of particular importance between now and 2019 are social media in all facets of academe, blended learning, data-driven learning and assessment, and “makerspaces” and related concepts. For each trend, the report provides examples, references, and indications of likely effects on leadership, policy, and practice.

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