Proponents tout this model—which allows students to progress at their own pace by mastering measured “competencies” rather than spending a fixed amount of time in class—as a balm for the ills of academe. It will improve quality and expand access for working adults, they argue, while lowering costs for both colleges and students.
According to a report by Amy Laitinen of the New America Foundation, the credit hour is “the root of many problems plaguing America’s higher-education system” and “doesn’t actually represent learning in any kind of consistently meaningful or discernible way.”
Despite a 2006 clause that allows institutions to award federal financial aid based on “direct assessment” of student learning instead of the credit hour, only now will we have anyone taking advantage of it:
In April, [the Education Department] approved Southern New Hampshire University as the first institution to be eligible for financial aid under this provision. The university is rolling out a self-paced online program that has no traditional courses or professors. Instead, students advance by demonstrating mastery of 120 competencies, such as “can use logic, reasoning, and analysis to address a business problem.”
This paves the way for more educational providers to capitalize on the promise of personalized learning in meeting students’ needs.