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article imageOp-Ed: Competency-based college credit offers big benefits if done right

By Calvin Wolf     Feb 25, 2015 in Politics
Competency-based college credit is poised to be the next big thing in higher ed. If regulation is maintained, competency-based college education is a great way to get the social, cultural, and financial benefits of nontraditional students on campus.
Colleges and universities are set for tough times ahead. Real wages are falling, college tuition is rising, government support is waning, and an improving economy means more young people are exploring avenues other than the college classroom. And, if the Obama administration does push to fruition a proposal to offer free community college for all, universities will likely lose students (and funding). To fight this likely eventuality, it appears that universities are exploring the concept of competency-based college credit, which awards college credits for life and work experience. According to Matt Krupnick at The Hechinger Report, at least 200 institutions of higher education current are considering offering college credit for work experience.
The Competency-Based Education Network, or C-BEN, reports that 42 college campuses currently offer college credit for "competency," or work and life experience.
Coming behind the proposal of free community college for all, the increase of competency-based education is likely to be a second intense higher education debate in the 2016 election cycle. Competency-based education is popular among older individuals, many of whom lack the time or money to go back to school for a full-length degree plan. By allowing experienced workers to cut down a four-year degree to two years or so, universities may lure them to the bargaining table.
If universities begin losing young people to free community college, they may have to compensate by offering competency-based education "deals" to nontraditional students. This trend might be exacerbated by a shift in state and federal funding from four-year universities to two-year colleges, forcing universities to scramble to lure in more nontraditional students as a source of revenue.
Proponents argue that competency-based education is a great way to allow workers to further their education, give colleges and universities a dose of "real world" flavor, and give underrepresented groups a fairer chance to earn college degrees. Critics worry that competency-based education could devolve into universities becoming diploma mills for workers willing to exchange cash for credits, shoring up revenue at the cost of grade and credential inflation. Fears of bias and discrimination will likely be significant, with people worrying about which work and life experiences receive how much college credit. For example, will white collar workers receive easier college credit than blue collar workers? Will workers who focus on interpersonal skills, such as social workers and teachers, receive less college credit than STEM workers in technical fields?
As a worker looking at furthering my education, I support the concept of competency-based education if academic rigor is enforced. I would like the ability to cut down on the number of credit-hours I must earn to receive a necessary academic credential to further my career, but do not want the credential to quickly become worthless due to grade inflation. States need to proactively deal with competency-based education to ensure that colleges and universities do not "cheat" and begin handing out massive amounts of college credit in exchange for workers' cash.
Older, nontraditional students have much to offer on campus, especially as mentors, both formal and informal, to younger students. Universities and states must acknowledge that, in order to receive these social, cultural, and financial benefits, some "deals" will likely have to be offered to reduce the number of credit-hours nontraditional students must earn. On the flip side, nontraditional students must acknowledge that academic rigor must be maintained and that it is unfair for nontraditional students to expect to receive higher marks than traditional students for work that is not of higher quality.
If I embarked on a Master's degree plan utilizing competency-based credit, I would be prepared to bring the academic skills to back it up.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about competency based education, Higher education, Teacher, College, college credit
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