Earlier this year Capella University and the new College for America began enrolling hundreds of students in academic programs without courses, teaching professors, grades, deadlines or credit hour requirements, but with a path to genuine college credit.
The two institutions are among a growing number that are giving competency-based education a try, including 25 or so nonprofit institutions, reports Inside Higher Education. Notable examples include Western Governors University and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
“These programs are typically online, and allow students to progress at their own pace without formal course material. They can earn credit by successfully completing assessments that prove their mastery in predetermined competencies or tasks — maybe writing in a business setting or using a spreadsheet to perform calculations.
“College for America and a small pilot program at Capella go a step further than the others, however, by severing any link to the credit hour standard. This approach is called “direct assessment.” Other competency-based programs track learning back to seat time under the credit hour, which assumes one hour of instruction and three hours of coursework per week. As a result, direct assessment is the most extensive form of competency-based education. And it looks nothing like traditional college classes. Perhaps the method’s most revolutionary, and controversial, contribution is a changed role for faculty. Instructors don’t teach, because there are no lectures or any other guided path through course material.
“Competency-based education makes many academics uncomfortable. For example, Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, worries that the rigor reflected in a competency-based credential would suffer if those competencies are viewed in isolation and not linked to a coherent curriculum.”