Competency-Based Education Gaining Traction in Arizona

The Department of Education has announced that funding will be available for new experimental sites that will allow higher education institutions to test new programs that allow for faster, more flexible programs and degrees.

In 1992, the Department of Education was granted authority over experimental sites by Congress through the Higher Education Act of 1965. On Tuesday, the department announced a new round of experimental sites so that colleges can pursue innovations that lead to stronger academic and career outcomes, with flexibility to have certain statutory and regulatory requirements waived, reports The Imperial Valley News.

"At a time when a college degree matters more than ever, we have to provide a flexible, innovative experience that can meet the needs of every American," US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. "This initiative will enable institutions to try some of their best ideas and most promising practices to provide more students with the opportunity to pursue a higher education and become equipped for success in today's workforce.

Competency-based education is one of the main things being test at these sites. This will allow students to earn federal student aid based on how much they learn instead of how much time they spend in the classroom. They will allow the use of federal student aid to pay for prior learning assessment, which will decrease the time it takes to get a degree.

Northern Arizona University has already found success in competency-based education programs. It is one of the few schools in the US to offer this option and officials have seen positive results since its launch a year ago, reports Julianne Logan from Cronkite News.

"We are overjoyed that Congress is finally taking into account the needs of students, and proud that we are already ahead of the game," said Alison Brown, an NAU associate vice president for extended campuses, who is in charge of the Personalized Learning Program there.

To enroll in the program, students pay a flat rate fee of $2,500 for six months. This gets them a subscription to classes at NAU. During the six months, students are allowed to earn as many credits as they can.

Students work at their own pace in order to earn credits and they are able to bypass class modules if they are able to prove they already know the material through and initial test.

State Rep. Matt Salmon is excited by the new possibilities for a variety of potential students. He noted that the programs will be especially beneficial to veterans, worker and ‘non-traditional students'.

However, there are some doubts about these types of programs. Stanley Katz, a professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, believes that there are things students can only learn by participating in class discussion led by a professor.

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