In this three-part series, Raymond Blackwood, Campus Management’s Vice President of Product Management, explores the demand for new ways of assessing and awarding credit in higher education.
In the first article in this series, I looked at how higher education is expanding beyond the Carnegie Model (semester/quarter credit hours) as the only standard for measuring a student’s academic progress and completion. In fact, with more students, parents, and employers questioning the correlation between “chair time” and career preparedness, many institutions are looking at alternative models and delivery methods as an issue of survival.
From private institutions to community colleges and public universities, many are now considering flexible terms, competency-based education, micro-credential/ digital badges and immersive training (e.g., coding bootcamps) as ways to boost enrollment, compensate for reductions in public funding, and improve student outcomes. They are actively working with their communities and regional employers to build more effective and relevant programs.
Even lawmakers are considering extending Pell Grants to short-term job training, with backing from community colleges and business. Bipartisan legislation backed by community college and business groups would make certificate programs—even non-credit-bearing courses—as short as eight weeks eligible for Pell Grants.
Digital Badges (often called “Badging) and micro-credentials reflect competencies not seen in traditional transcripts and resumes, including learning from internships, volunteering, workplace training, and other activities outside the classroom. The Open Badges standard from the IMS Global Learning Consortium can help ensure transparency and portability. These standards describe a process for recording student accomplishments and embedding them in portable image files as digital badges, and establishing resources for its validation and verification.
ECPI University in Virginia Beach can now confer student degrees and certificates through decentralized networks built through blockchain, the same record-keeping technology behind the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Graduates no longer need to contact the registrar’s office to have transcripts and degree information sent to a prospective employer. “This is the future of retaining your vital academic records independent of any issuing entity,” says ECPI University Chief Information Officer Jeff Arthur. “You retain proof and control of your achievements indefinitely. Employers benefit from a process that allows them to quickly and easily verify educational histories on a resume.”
Bootcamps are no longer the exclusive domain of independent operators. Harvard and Yale now offer coding bootcamps for students in tech and the liberal arts as well as adult learners. Yale University offers students a 10-week, two-credit web development course during its summer session. But more than just catering to college graduates needing to burnish their liberal arts degrees with tech skills, more bootcamps are now targeting lower-income students to enter tech fields. At the federal level, the new Forever GI Bill includes $75 million for nontraditional providers, including bootcamps, to access GI Bill funds to train veterans for careers in technology.
The Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) is a good source for standards on bootcamp programs. The nonprofit organization’s members include bootcamp operators and stakeholder organizations that have developed a common framework for reporting on, documenting, and auditing student outcomes. CIRR schools must report their outcomes every six months, and their data must be backed up by documentation (meaning schools must collect written confirmation from students and employers or offer letters) and verified by a third-party.
Partnering with Bootcamp Operators
The Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) enables traditional institutions to partner with independent bootcamp operators to offer their programs. The bootcamp operator must meet the institution’s accreditation and financial aid regulatory standards to qualify. For example, Yale’s bootcamp program is in partnership with the Flatiron School, an independent software engineering boot camp.
At Rasmussen College, a private institution in Bloomington, Minnesota, classes still meet every week over a 12-week period. But students can complete the course in as few as three weeks, if they demonstrate proficiency and knowledge in the subject. Each course is offered online and composed of six modules that measure competency levels through faculty assessments. An entire bachelor’s degree can be earned this way. As one of the leading pioneers of CBE programs, the college participates in the Department of Education’s Experimental Sites Initiative that tests innovative practices aimed at providing better, faster, and more flexible paths to academic and career success.
Organizations and initiatives such as the Lumina Foundation and the Competency-Based Education Network (CBEN) are assessing the CBE landscape in higher education and creating an innovative network for institutions to develop CBE standards and best practices.
Getting Started with Alternative Programs
We’ve now looked at how higher education, employers, and government agencies are coming together to create alternative programs for a wide diversity of students, and where we can look for established standards to make them universally recognized and portable.
In the next article, we’ll look at what institutions need to consider in terms of designing curricula, organizing and preparing faculty resources, and meeting platform requirements for launching alternative programs like these.