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Stuff Learned Beats Time Served
Higher Education Gets "Competent"

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.

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  • Anthony

    Competency based education – meeting customers where they are; new age educational version of chasing moonbeams??? Maybe ghosts of P.T. Barnum lives on (inherent infantile gullibility).

    • Jim__L

      I think it’s a tragic commentary on companies in general and Human Resources departments in particular that unless you have a pricey certification next to your name, HR can’t manage to find you.

      What VM describes here is going to be an improvement.

      • Anthony

        Please, I rather not….

  • aez

    Anthony, do you favor the “time served” approach to the exclusion of the competency-based approach? Can you clarify why?

    • Anthony

      I haven’t considered matter. Competency/time served at first thought (but I would thoughtfully prefer to seriously analyze material before hazarding a guess) ought not be an either or binary choice. Above all, skill is content and content is skill (academic skills – by which fundamentally one must have – have two components: procedures and content). Before post secondary matriculation, quality time must be served to acquire competence. However in earlier instance, I was referring (generally) to inadequacy of judgment hoped for by those proffering idea. Thanks.

  • Corlyss

    This just sounds like a clever way to give tuition-paying slackers a “degree” without making them endure the time-consuming annoyance of actually developing subject matter competence. The model gives the ” education” credits for arriving at their door having mastered processes incidental to a subject – any subject. In my experience students were supposed to have developed presentation skills in the process of mastering a subject, not as the end of a course itself unless the course was public speaking or technical writing, etc.

    • qet

      That’s at the end of the road we are halfway down already.

      • Corlyss

        One of the unplumbed black holes in employment is the number of people who lie about their educational credentials having got them from illegitimate diploma mills. One of the areas where it seems to flourish is the IT field. When I was at NASA an agency CIO (not NASA’s) was found to have lied about her education and was in possession of a diploma from a mill. Since that meant she lied on her application, which is legally perjury.That’s a surround-the-office-with-security-guards-confiscate-IDs-and-passes-and-escort-the-employee-out-of-the-facility offence. Mills are probably much more than are ever caught. Thing is, the infamous government BI really only touches on employment history and personal behavior as observed by neighbors. It rarely touches upon education. Professions like doctor and lawyer have some backstop in certification like state bar certification for lawyers. But even that isn’t fool-proof. My officemate at IRS turned out to be a part-time drug dealer and when he was suspended pending an investigation, it was learned that he had not kept up his bar certification for literally years. All of his cases had to be reviewed to determine if the advice he gave was in fact legal.

  • qet

    If this practice isn’t a reprise of the Wizard’s speech to the Scarecrow, I don’t know what is.

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