In his address on higher education last week, President Obama encouraged innovation, specifically mentioning the groundbreaking work being done to award college credit based on learning, not simply on how much time is spent in a classroom. Under the direct assessment method, colleges and universities like Capella, which recently became the first university to receive U.S. Department of Education approval to offer competency-based bachelor’s- and master’s-degree programs that utilize direct assessment, can deliver high-quality education in a way that allows students to advance through their programs at their own pace and on their own schedule. As President Obama said, this allows students to "learn material faster, pay less and save money."
Using this model, the future of higher education can align specific competencies with the needs of employers as well as critical societal needs, while allowing busy students the flexibility to complete a degree.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Even with the excitement around this new higher education delivery model, colleges and universities wishing to operate programs through direct assessment are still forced to work within the confines of an antiquated financial aid delivery system built upon concepts like the credit hour. Here is where President Obama’s higher education plan has an opportunity to enact real, lasting change that will spark innovation – and change the way we think about education.
Some of the necessary updates to federal financial aid programs are obvious. For example, requirements around weeks of instructional time simply do not work with a direct assessment model that focuses on what the student is learning, not the number of weeks it takes them to do so. Additionally, an examination of artificial, time-based barriers to completion highlights the need to reinstate year-round Pell Grant funding and explore the elimination of annual loan limits. The current funding rules around both the Pell Grant program and the Stafford Loan program prevent ambitious students from moving more quickly through their programs and increase the likelihood that students will have to pause their education for a term or more in order to gain additional aid eligibility.
In addition, policymakers should explore how a student’s academic progress can be measured apart from standards like traditional letter grades. Ultimately, federal funding rules need to reflect the move toward tying financial aid to student outcomes.
Obviously, there is a lot of work to be done to move the dial on a true direct assessment model. One way to address this is for Congress to authorize a demonstration project, or for the Department of Education to launch an experimental site initiative that will allow programs operating under direct assessment to examine the issues listed above, as well as others that arise. This will open the door to a better understanding of what federal financial aid changes make sense, and at the same time, allow institutions like Capella and Southern New Hampshire University to continue to innovate with direct assessment. It is shortsighted to believe that the current financial aid model supports the full potential of direct assessment. At the same time, it would be irresponsible to enact immediate, sweeping changes without the benefit of learning from those innovative institutions that are approved to operate direct assessment programs.
The emergence of direct assessment is a great step forward for higher education, but this is just the beginning. Colleges offering direct assessment cannot perpetually retrofit this delivery model into a traditional student funding model, nor can simply eliminating the credit hour requirement solve the issues that currently exist. Congress has already started the important process of investigating barriers that impede higher education innovation and efficiency. We should all work together to explore the opportunities President Obama outlined and pursue substantial, innovative change in higher education.
Deb Bushway is chief academic officer at Capella University.
New York State has sued Trump University for making false claims and operating as an unlicensed educational institution from 2005 to 2011, The New York Times reported. Trump University earlier changed its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative after the New York State Education Department said it was deceptive for the for-profit institution to call itself a university. The lawsuit announced Saturday says that the Donald Trump led organization encouraged people "to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford for lessons they never got." As an example of a false claim, the suit says that Donald Trump claimed in promotional materials that he selected instructors to teach a curriculum he devised. In reality, the state attorney general says, Trump didn't pick the instructors or create the curriculum. A lawyer for Trump said that the suit was politically motivated and that the vast majority of students were satisfied with their courses.
Submitted by Paul Fain on August 20, 2013 - 3:00am
Career Education Corp. has agreed to a $10.25 million settlement with New York's attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. The for-profit chain, which owns Colorado Technical University and Sanford Brown, had been the subject of an inquiry by Schneiderman over allegedly inflating its graduates' job placement rates. The settlement includes $9.25 in restitution to former students and a $1 million penalty to the state, according to a news release from the attorney general's office. The company has also agreed to "substantial changes" in how it calculates job placement rates.
A Minnesota jury has ordered Globe University, a for-profit institution, to pay $400,000 to Heidi Weber, who said she was fired for accusing the institution of using false and misleading job placement statistics, The Star Tribune reported. Weber sued under a Minnesota law designed to protect whistle-blowers. Globe said that she was dismissed for legitimate reasons.
Submitted by Paul Fain on August 13, 2013 - 3:00am
President Obama over the weekend touted a new program from the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Veteran Affairs that broadly defines "best practices" for serving student veterans. So far more than 250 institutions, including many community colleges, have signed on to the "8 Keys to Success." The program includes calls for better coordination with government agencies, a uniform set of data tools and an early alert system aimed at student veterans.
Submitted by Paul Fain on August 13, 2013 - 3:00am
Capella University announced that the U.S. Department of Education has granted approval to two new, competency-based degree programs. The university's "FlexPath" online bachelor's of science in business and master of business administration degrees are so-called "direct assessment" tracks, which are not based on the credit hour standard. Students in the two programs can now access federal financial aid thanks to the department's green light. Southern New Hampshire's College for America is the only other institution to receive such approval, but Northern Arizona University is also seeking it. Regional accreditors have signed off on the direct assessment degrees at all three institutions.
A U.S. Senate panel last weekend passed a rider to the defense appropriations bill that would count federal spending on tuition assistance for members of the military and their spouses toward a threshold that requires for-profit colleges to receive less than 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources. Military tuition spending, as well as funds from the Post 9/11 GI Bill, currently do not count as federal money under the so-call "90/10" rule. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and critic of the for-profit sector, introduced the legislation, which also prohibits for-profits from spending money from military tuition assistance on marketing or advertising.
Kaplan Inc., now makes up a larger portion of the Washington Post Company, which Monday announced the sale of The Washington Post for $250 million to Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.com. Kaplan -- which includes Kaplan University, a test preparation division and other affiliates -- brought in $548 million of the Washington Post Company's $1 billion in revenue for the second quarter of this year, according to a corporate filing. While Kaplan's revenue was down slightly compared to last year, its operating revenue improved. Revenue for the newspaper division, which has been battered by circulation declines, was $138 million for the quarter. Its operating loss for the first six months of 2013 was $49 million.
The Lumina Foundation is putting $2.3 million behind a growing effort to reduce the regulatory burden on institutions that offer online courses to students across state lines, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
Four regional commissions, including WICHE, and a number of other higher education officials want distance ed programs to be regulated by the state where they are based instead of by every state where they operate, a plan some hope will solve the longstanding, knotty problem of regulating cross-state institutions. Existing regulations requiring online programs to register in each state where they have students are simply being ignored.
Lumina is funding a voluntary solution, which mirrors recommendations from a report issued in April. The so-called State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, or SARA, would create a national series of reciprocity agreements. States would be responsible for regulating distance ed institutions based in their states. Other states would rely on that home state's work. Distance ed providers, including traditional universities and for-profit providers, could expect a decrease in their paperwork and required fees. SARA would require states across the country to change their laws to accommodate the new regulatory framework.
The head of the New England Board of Higher Education said SARA is a workable solution.
"This agreement provides a timely and voluntary means by which state authorizers and postsecondary institutions nationwide can collaborate to address key challenges, including the ongoing profusion of online learning, the misalignment of state policy requirements, and the need to expand online access and program quality," Michael K. Thomas, NEBHE’s president and CEO, said in a statement.