Time-based education faces rival system

Today’s education system seems to revolve primarily around timing and structure. In high school, college and, for some, grad school, there’s a traditional track that helps young adults fare well from an educational and self-discovery standpoint. Though traditional methods of higher education provide a good overall experience for students coming out of high school, working adults need an alternative type of education to help advance their careers and skills. The education system has already become more accessible and flexible by adding online degree options for continuing education and for working adults. Another solution that has the potential to revolutionize higher education for older students, however, is competency-based learning rather than time-based learning.

Elizabeth Cutbirth| Daily Trojan

Elizabeth Cutbirth| Daily Trojan

Competency-based learning allows institutions to get student aid funding by creating experimental programs that directly measure learning, not time, which is beneficial for students who do not have the years required to attend a four-year university. This would enable students to move at their own pace and measures what students know and are able to do. According to InsideHigherEd, more than 350 institutions now have or are seeking to create programs that offer competency-based degrees. The “Flexible Option” at the University of Wisconsin currently offers five competency-based degrees. It is the first public institution permitted to offer this kind of program.

Similar to online education, these kinds of programs help to remove many of the obstacles that so often prevent aspiring adult learners from obtaining the college education and credentials they desire. According to NPR, the largest pool of current and potential college students in the United States doesn’t consist of 18- to 22-year-olds. Instead, there are millions of adults in their early 20s through late middle age who need to complete their first degree or update their skills to enhance their careers.

Supporters of competency-based education include nonprofit groups such as the Lumina Foundation, which is working to release a document called the “Degree Qualifications Profile” to provide a common basis for understanding the competencies required for an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree in any field. Yet, though this kind of education has the intention of making education more worthwhile to audiences like working adults, there are some aspects of competency-based education that need to be addressed.

Competency-based education aims to help older students do college “smarter,” but there are some obstacles that competency-based programs currently face. The Department of Education recognizes that competency-based education is “new territory” and that there is no regulatory framework for it just yet. Lessons learned from the experimentation, however, will help the federal government develop better systems for encouraging innovation and new ways of learning. Specific challenges include the designing of assessments for people involved in these programs and the inability for students to create relationships with professors in the same manner.

Though this kind of education shows promise, competency-based education’s subjectivity makes it harder to create a standard of learning. Education based on time ensures standardization and structure for all students, and four-year universities should not be discounted. Though competency-based education and online education are great alternatives for those who have a “full-time life,” it is also important to consider those who are entering college straight from high school.

Beyond schooling, a four-year university enables students to have experiences like no other, fostering an environment where students learn more about themselves while pursuing an education at the same time. Competency-based education is a great and promising option for working adults, but experimentation, structure and standardization is needed before it can become a legitimate and reliable source of education for young adults just on the verge of entering the real world.