Today’s news of experimentation in higher education comes courtesy of a small, Christian university in Nashville, TN. As Inside Higher Ed reports, the adult education program at Lipscomb university credits students for the skills they already have. The buzzword is “competency-based” education, which evaluates students’ mastery of things like “presentation skills” and “problem-solving.” A day-long assessment costs $1,500 and can earn them up to 30 credit hours, a little less than a quarter of the total credits needed for a degree.If “competency-based education” sounds like business-speak to you, there’s a reason for that:
Part of the university’s shift toward adult students is a heavier focus on learning that feels familiar to employers. […]“I wanted to be able to use the language of business,” says [Dean of Lipscomb’s New College of Professional Studies Charla] Long, who worked for Disney for nine years. […]As a result, [Lipscomb’s] assessment center is appealing to non-academics. Companies can use it to assess their employees’ skills for non-credit training. So far a major retailer, bank, local government agency and nonprofit groups have tapped the center’s offerings.
This sort of higher ed program, as Glenn Reynolds argues in his new book, is poised to proliferate: cheap, flexible, geared toward older students, tailored to specific jobs or employers, and at least partially conducted online. Already, most college students don’t fit the traditional profile of an 18 year old headed for four years of dorm life. In the future, more Americans will seek out programs that allow them to acquire a degree at the mid-career stage, or while working part time or raising children. By meeting their “customers” where they are, the relatively obscure Lipscomb University could be providing a service students don’t get at many big name schools.