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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Are you educated if you are competent?

"For a university that pioneered distance learning, Northern Arizona University’s foray into online, self-paced degree programs seems like a natural fit." continues Arizona Daily Sun.


But on the Mountain Campus and elsewhere, competency-based education uncoupled from the credit hour is raising questions fundamental to higher education: What is a college? What does it mean to be educated at one? And how does a college work to accomplish that goal?

As the host community to a bricks-and-mortar campus of 20,000 students, Flagstaff has a big stake in how those questions shake out. The Internet has proved to be a disruptive technology in many fields, and using its interactivity to eliminate “seat time” in class and semester-long course modules has wide ramifications for a residential college campus.

As we report today on the front page, NAU’s program, called
Personalized Learning, has started slowly with just three degree programs: liberal arts, computer information technology and small business administration. It breaks down course syllabi into dozens of goals that show mastery of certain skills, with clusters like “critical and creative thinking” and “digital fluency and information literacy.” Students in competency programs have reading and writing assignments, but they also are encouraged to attend plays, help low-income families fill out tax forms or intern at a computer repair shop.

Most of the initial students in Personalized Learning – there are 390 so far – are older and have had jobs and other life experiences. Instead of paying by the credit hour, students pay a flat rate of $2,500 every six months for as many competencies as they can master. Mentors check in by phone or email on their progress, and subject-matter experts grade papers and tests. By 2020, NAU hopes to have enrolled 8,000 students in Personalized Learning and be generating net revenue by that year of $19 million.

Proportionally speaking, that’s not an insignificant number of students compared with the Mountain Campus. But if these are students who would otherwise not complete a degree, then Personalized Learning would seem to be serving a new and important niche. NAU as a whole struggles to graduate even a majority of its enrollees after six years, so a self-paced degree program free of any residential or credit-hour requirements might help to improve those numbers.
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Source: Arizona Daily Sun