Competency-based learning makes college credit more accessible for all

The OlympianJune 3, 2014 

The state community-college system will offer a new route to an associate degree in business that is less expensive and time-consuming than the traditional path, if it’s approved by the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges at its June meeting.

The all online, competency-based two-year degree would transfer to four-year colleges, paving the way for more students to achieve their bachelor’s degrees.

The program offers great promise to older students who may draw on work experiences to complete their community college credits. It is also well-suited to students who are place-bound and unable to attend classes in person due to family and job commitments.

Online learning is already well established in the community colleges across the state. But this would be the fastest and least expensive pathway to an associate degree ever offered at a public college in Washington.

The program is consistent with efforts by the U.S. Department of Education to encourage public colleges and universities to start offering competency degrees, which is a way to recognize the value of what students already know and can do, and to make college accessible to more students.

The degree would include classes in English composition, lab science, accounting, economics, business calculus, public speaking, political science, sociology and statistics.

In some courses, a student could advance by demonstrating a command of the subject matter through a test or writing assignment.

Competency-based learning is an acknowledgment that students can and do learn at different paces, and that many working adults have already acquired significant skills and knowledge. It’s an example of the education delivery system adapting to changing times.

Some faculty members have expressed concerns that students learning at different rates will be a more time-consuming teaching challenge. In reality, students learn at different rates regardless of whether a class is online or in the classroom. Good teachers already handle that challenge. However, class sizes may need to be smaller in an independent learning environment.

A more systematic approach to competency-based learning is a sensible strategy for the 21st century. The job market demands a more highly trained workforce, and this is one way to provide it.

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