More attention for competency-based higher education

If you were scanning this forum on the day after Christmas, you might remember a note about Carolina Journal Online’s article discussing a competency-based model for higher education.

Now James Piereson of the William E. Simon Foundation and author Naomi Schaefer Riley address a similar theme in USA Today.

[P]erhaps the biggest news of 2013 on this front was the introduction of competency-based education at the University of Wisconsin. Thanks to pressure from Governor Scott Walker, the UW Flexible Option is now available online and students will be charged for a kind of “all you can eat” subscription, three months at a time for $2,250. The Milwaukee campus is now offering degrees in nursing, diagnostic imaging, and information science and technology.

There are about 800,000 people in the state of Wisconsin who have some college credits under their belt, but don’t have a degree. Walker himself dropped out of Marquette before graduating and has even suggested that he may take advantage of the Flexible Option. While this development is likely to have a positive effect on the employability of Wisconsin’s residents, it also signifies a kind of tipping point for competency-based education. The new program at Wisconsin means CBE is going “mainstream,” as the Chronicle of Higher Education put it. Indeed, in higher education, you need some big name university to take the plunge and then others will follow. Whether it’s the development of massive online courses at Stanford or Harvard’s ending early admission, once a prestigious school takes a leap, others just follow the herd.

Not surprisingly, faculty at Wisconsin are not happy. If you don’t need a certain number of hours in a classroom in order to master the material, then professors’ jobs become much less secure. Faculty at the Green Bay campus have “doubts that the Flexible degree program will meet the academic standards of a university education.”

Of course, university faculties have no one to blame but themselves for the growing demand for these developments. It was once said that the goal of a college education was to teach students how to make a living as well as “how to live” by exposing them to the great ideas of civilization. By watering down the liberal arts curriculum and then engaging in outrageous grade inflation, colleges have essentially removed themselves both from the business of career preparation as well as giving students any guidance on living a good life.

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