Competency Based Education Takes Hold In Wisconsin

While students spend time the next few weeks finishing college applications, many will be asking themselves if college is even worth it. Employers have no idea what they are getting in a graduate, since a college degree does not tell a company much about a potential hire. This is leaving many companies beginning to wonder, too, about the value of college.

Carol Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, said:

"This problem is not exactly new and the solution has been clear to many for years. As Charles Murray wrote in his 2008 book, "Real Education," "The solution is not better degrees, but no degrees. Young people entering the job market should have a known, trusted measure of their qualifications they can carry into job interviews. That measure should express what they know and are able to do, not where they learned it or how long it took them to learn it."

In 2013, competency based education (CBE) took a major step forward. The Department of Education offered financial aid for colleges with CBE proposals, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation offered Next Generation Learning Challenges grants to colleges developing CBE. Thanks to Gov. Scott Walker, the UW Flexible Option is now available online at the University of Wisconsin. It offers degrees in nursing, diagnostic imaging and information science and technology.

With the University of Wisconsin jumping into CBE, many universities are sure to follow. Not all people are happy about the shift, though.

Faculty at the Green Bay campus have "doubts that the Flexible degree program will meet the academic standards of a university education."

They also worry that professors' jobs will become less secure due to students not needing a set number of hours in the classroom.

While state legislatures deal with the question of how to make higher public education work during a time of budget cuts, competency based education is an appealing and cost-effective option.

There are certainly plenty of questions to be answered about this new frontier. How will colleges arrive at the appropriate standards? How will employers know that the credentials mean the same things when they come from different schools? How will the federal government determine which programs are worthy of public funds?

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