Earlier this year Capella University and the new College for America began enrolling hundreds of students in academic programs without courses, teaching professors, grades, deadlines or credit hour requirements, but with a path to genuine college credit.
The two institutions are among a growing number that are giving competency-based education a try, including 25 or so nonprofit institutions. Notable examples include Western Governors University and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
These programs are typically online, and allow students to progress at their own pace without formal course material. They can earn credit by successfully completing assessments that prove their mastery in predetermined competencies or tasks — maybe writing in a business setting or using a spreadsheet to perform calculations.
College for America and a small pilot program at Capella go a step further than the others, however, by severing any link to the credit hour standard. This approach is called “direct assessment.” Other competency-based programs track learning back to seat time under the credit hour, which assumes one hour of instruction and three hours of coursework per week. (For more details from College for America, click here.)