There’s a movement brewing to change the way colleges and universities award degrees from the credit-hour to a model that asks students to prove what they’ve learned, no matter how long it takes. In herĀ New York Times article, Anya Kamenetz describes how efforts to keep college costs down are spurring innovative ideas in higher education and spawning new colleges that use competency-based learning.

Critics say the move could diminish the value of a college degree.

Degrees Based on What You Can Do, Not How Long You WentIN 1893, Charles Eliot, president of Harvard, introduced to the National Education Association a novel concept: the credit hour. Roughly equivalent to one hour of lecture time a week for a 12- to 14-week semester, it became the basic unit of a college education, and the standard measure for transferring work between institutions.

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  • Student Advocate

    Is it any wonder that profit-driven online schools and corporate mega-giants such as Pearson are key players in this ‘transformation’ of higher ed? While it might sound reasonable on the surface, this “next evolution in Higher Ed” has an uncanny resemblance to the for-profit corporate privatization movement in K-12 schools. For an excellent analysis of these trends, read Diane Ravitchs recent book, “Reign of Error.” She documents numerous examples nationally where an initial idea about improving education ends up being hijacked and morphed into a massive for-profit scheme that rewards investors at the top with millions while *gravely undermining* the quality of education on the ground. Insightful analyses are provided in this post as well: While trends noted here focus more closely on K-12 settings, the same major corporate players are involved and now seem to be pushing their snakeoil spin onto our public universities.

    • Andy

      Why is it bad for corporations to compete with non-profit institutions in education? If they happen to do a better job, the results will show as kids get better jobs and better life satisfaction. If they don’t, the free market will allow students to avoid these “evil” organizations who provide a bad education. Whether an organization makes a profit or not doesn’t determine its quality or its values. I will carefully look at all options of education when my kids go to school, and I carefully look at all my options now in receiving further adult education.

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Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She's worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She's a staff writer for KQED's education blog MindShift.

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