Faculty, stakeholders weigh the credit hour against competency-based learning.

credit-hour-carnegieWhen discussing the credit hour, one could almost be discussing fossil fuels; at least, that’s the gist of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s recent high-profile report making waves in the higher education community.

As national urgency toward the development of alternative fuels grows, there’s still the problem of how to actually create and produce non-T-Rex-based oils at an affordable price that won’t cause mass public panic and chaos.

The same thought process can be applied to the credit hour.

In the report, the Foundation argues that the credit hour is so ingrained in the fabric of education that, at the moment, getting rid of it would have tragic consequences on course curriculum, teaching methods, faculty pay, student learning, and financial aid.

Why? Because while competency-based education standards are a novel idea with great potential, the implementation strategy for how CBE could work as a total replacement of the credit hour is fairly non-existent.

“The study finds that the Carnegie Unit remains the central organizing feature of the vast American education system, from elementary school to graduate school, and provides students with an important opportunity-to-learn standard,” notes the report. “But at best, the Carnegie Unit is a crude proxy for student learning. The U.S. education system needs more informative measures of student performance. Achieving this goal would require the development of rigorous standards, assessments, and accountability systems—difficult work, especially in the field of higher education, where educational aims are highly varied and faculty autonomy is deeply engrained.”

In other words, let’s see what the scientists come up with at the lab and we’ll let you know when you can start using your solar battery-powered Camry. Until then, time to fill up the tank.

The Report has generated quite the buzz in the education community, with many saying the Foundation didn’t do enough to help find a solution to the problems it identifies with the credit hour.

But is the credit hour really so bad, or can it hold positives for faculty and students? Does the credit hour need to go completely, or can there be coinciding assistive CBE alternatives? Here’s what the community is saying:

On faculty

“A faculty workload, as measured by the Carnegie Unit, is reduced to contact hours. That measurement, in turn, is translated into credit hours. And those help set a college’s budget,” said Jane V. Wellman, author of How the Student Credit Hour Shapes Higher Education, for the Chronicle. “In faculty contracts, compensation is often connected to time and the number of students taught.”

One of [the credit hour’s] primary goals was to ensure that faculty members were fairly compensated for their time and work. A big challenge at the turn of the 20th century–one that has reemerged in the early 21st century–was that universities provided insufficient pay and economic security for scholars to devote their lives to teaching and intellectual inquiry,” said Johann Neem, professor of history at Western Washington University, for Inside Higher Ed. “At a time when more and more faculty members work as adjuncts or lecturers with low salaries and little protection for academic freedom, the question of the economic security of academics is pressing.”

(Next page: On serving students; alternatives)

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