Big Disruption, Big Questions

These are heady times for competency-based education, which raises fundamental questions about the structure and purpose of higher education.

Several colleges are taking the competency-based approach to its potential end game, by offering “direct assessment” academic programs that are untethered from both course material and the credit hour. At the same time, a small but growing group of accreditors, foundations and higher education associations have begun discussing what academic rigor might look like in this emerging model.

The Lumina Foundation, for example, is playing a lead role in arranging a meeting next week on competency-based education that will include representatives from 25 colleges that have dabbled in it, several sources said. Also attending will be officials from the U.S. Department of Education, state higher education agencies, and other foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

They will have plenty to talk about, as now five institutions are moving forward with online experiments in direct assessment.

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