Competency-Based Education: No More Semesters?

“I went to a four-year university.” “That job requires a one-year certificate.” “It’s a two-semester course.” “She’s a fifth-year senior.” What do these expressions have in common? They use time as the yardstick for higher education.

Essentially, this means measuring not how much you’ve learned, but how long you’ve spent trying to learn it.

The conventions of the credit hour, the semester and the academic year were formalized in the early 1900s. Time forms the template for designing college programs, accrediting them and — crucially — funding them using federal student aid.

But in 2013, for the first time, the Department of Education took steps to loosen the rules.

The new idea: Allow institutions to get student-aid funding by creating programs that directly measure learning, not time. Students can move at their own pace. The school certifies — measures — what they know and are able to do.

It’s known as “direct assessment” or “competency-based education.”

In July of this year, the Department of Education announced a new round of “experimental sites” that will be allowed to try out such programs without losing financial-aid eligibility.

“There are big changes going on out in the field of education,” says David Soo, a senior policy adviser at the Department of Education. “And we want to encourage them to happen.”

According to Inside Higher Ed, more than 350 institutions now offer or are seeking to create competency-based degrees. So it’s a safe bet that we’ll be hearing more about this trend soon. Here’s why you might want to pay attention. <Read more.>

Via Anya Kamenetz, NPR Ed.