Student aid change could mark shift in online education

“Too often communication between the Department and higher ed is one-way and strictly compliance focused,” Laitinen said. “[The] letter was neither.”

“This is a key step forward in expanding access to affordable higher education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We know many students and adult learners across the country need the flexibility to fit their education into their lives or work through a class on their own pace, and these competency-based programs offer those features – and they are often accessible to students anytime, anywhere. By being able to access title IV aid for these programs, many students may now be able to afford higher education.”

Fred Hurst, senior vice president of Extended Campuses at Northern Arizona University – a pioneer in experimenting with the competency-based model – said failing to provide the same financial aid options for nontraditional students who are at a disadvantage in a credit hour system was a roadblock for the effort to increase college graduates in the U.S.

“Our education system, from Kindergarten through college, is designed like an assembly line – every student is treated the same,” he said in a blog post on WCET’s website. “The problem is that every student is different.”

Besides opening up alternatives for those who don’t have the time or money to seek a college degree in the traditional way, mainstreaming competency-based learning programs could make education more appealing to a broader audience, Hurst said.

“Competency-based education can ensure that each student gains true competency, not just squeaking by with a D,” he said.  “Research tells us that most students are turned off to learning by middle school.  Competency-based education can bring back the joy of learning to many students.”

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