The University of Michigan is now on course to become one of the first public higher education institutions to offer a degree that can be achieved not through credit hours but on demonstrated proficiency in the subjects studied. According to Inside Higher Ed, Michigan’s regional accreditor has just approved a competency-based Master’s of Health Professions Education. The program is designed to give health professionals training in “carry[ing] out the full range of responsibilities of a scholarly educator-leader.”
This is a small but significant step toward one of the most important higher education reforms currently on offer, alongside MOOCs. NPR provides some excellent background, noting that the current system measures “not how much you’ve learned, but how long you’ve spent trying to learn it.” More:
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.
This kind of approach shifts higher education from what we at the AI have called a “time served” to a “stuff learned” model, allowing students to learn what they need to learn and then graduate without spending unnecessary time in a program or racking up unnecessary debt. According to NPR, the DoE attempt to “loosen the rules” means that as many as 350 schools nationwide can now try out competency-based degrees without risking their eligibility for federal financial aid. Read the whole thing for an overview of the current status of those programs and their prospects for success. The more schools have the freedom to grant degrees on the basis of proficiency rather than “time served,” the more relevant to the demands of today’s economy higher education will become.