Forty years after Regents College became the first in the nation to award degrees based on proof of prior learning, competency-based education, as its model became known, may finally be on the verge of federal approval.
Within days, the U.S. Department of Education is expected to approve Southern New Hampshire University’s request to award federal student aid based not on credit hours, but on a series of measured “competencies.” Several other programs are seeking recognition from regional accreditors, a prerequisite to federal approval.
Yet many college leaders and accreditors say the rules governing competency-based learning remain unclear, and they fault the Education Department for sending mixed messages about its willingness to move beyond seat time in allocating aid. They say the uncertainty is stifling innovation and discouraging more colleges from experimenting with new measures of student learning. (The department declined a request for comment.)
In an effort to clarify the rules, a group of influential foundations is planning a spring meeting on the future of competency-based programs. The goal, organizers say, is to create a “safe space” where accreditors, state regulators, department officials, and colleges can figure out ways to promote the programs, while protecting taxpayer dollars from fraud.
“We’re trying to establish a better form of communication that will make people comfortable innovating in a way that won’t open the floodgates of financial aid to any charlatan that has designs on it,” said Amy Laitinen, deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation. <Read more.>