"I went to a four-year university." "That job requires a one-year certificate." "It’s a two-semester course." "She’s a fifth-year senior." What do these expressions have in common? They use time as the yardstick for higher education.
Essentially, this means measuring not how much you’ve learned, but how long you’ve spent trying to learn it.
The conventions of the credit hour, the semester and the academic year were formalized in the early 1900s. Time forms the template for designing college programs, accrediting them and — crucially — funding them using federal student aid.
But in 2013, for the first time, the Department of Education took steps to loosen the rules.
The new idea: Allow institutions to get student-aid funding by creating programs that directly measure learning, not time. Students can move at their own pace. The school certifies — measures — what they know and are able to do.
Competency-Based Education: No More Semesters?
Illustration credit: LA Johnson/NPR