A growing number of reform-minded lawmakers on Capitol Hill want to see more of online “innovations” like competency-based education. To help out, some are making noise about changing federal financial aid policy and the accreditation system.
The hearing and several emerging pieces of legislation are harbingers of how the looming debate over the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act might shake out.
How "big" of changes are we anticipating, seeing as how efficient we all know Washington DC lawmakers are. Jaded much? I know.
Under the bill, Lee said states could work with the U.S. Department of Education to sign agreements that would authorize the flow of federal financial aid to a wide range of course providers, some of which look nothing like colleges.
Andrew Kelly, however, likes Lee’s idea. Kelly, who is director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Center on Higher Education Reform, said it would create a credible alternative to the existing accreditation system, which the bill would leave intact.
“If state accreditation is offered as an alternative to federal accreditation, does this mean that government officials, not faculty, make judgments about teaching and learning?” she asked in an email.
I’m confused as to how accreditation by state or federal agencies will make any judgments about teaching and learning ? Federal makes those "judgments" now ? Am I missing something?
Several Democrats at the well-attended hearing seemed supportive of that approach. But they warned against opening the floodgates of aid to unscrupulous operators and low-value credentials.
Several panelists called for the expansion of the U.S. Department of Education’s “experimental sites” program, which allows colleges to try new approaches within a “safe space” of looser regulation and financial aid policies.
Earlier this week two Congressmen announced proposed legislation to do just that. The bill from Rep. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, and Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, would encourage experimental sites for competency-based programs, prior-learning assessment and accelerated degree programs.
This is looking more and more like an expanding set of opportunities for more customized, less cookie-cutter educational opportunities.
William (Brit) Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said he supports the expansion of competency-based education. And he said the federal rules governing financial aid make it hard for colleges to go big with those programs.
“This isn’t a foreign idea to higher education,” said Kirwan, citing similar options, like Advanced Placement (AP) exams and other established forms of credit-by-exam. “We just need to recognize it.”
Kirwan and other panelists said they would support changes to the existing accreditation system that might make it easier for competency-based and other emerging forms of online education to spread.
One commonly cited criticism of accreditors is that they favor the status quo, in part because they are membership organizations of academics that essentially practice self-regulation.
For example, she cited four institutions that have begun offering competency-based degrees through a process called direct assessment, which is completely de-coupled from the credit-hour standard. Regional accreditors reviewed and gave a green light to those four programs, including Southern New Hampshire’s and LeBlanc’s very own College for America.
More competency-based degree offerings are on the way. And that suits Sen. Christopher Murphy just fine.
“I believe that it is the future,” Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said during the hearing. “It’s one of the ways to deliver a much more affordable product, with better results and metrics.”
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