Program merits success, not time dedication

By Elizabeth zinchuk

Education has often been defined by time spent in the classroom, but an alternative program is now a step closer to redefining it.

The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to colleges March 19 that announced universities may apply to provide federal student aid to students enrolled in competency-based programs and also detailed the process for doing so, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Competency-based education programs focus on learning rather than time spent in a program, and student progress is defined by competence demonstration, according to the article. This means students must prove they have mastered the knowledge and skills required for a particular course. Credit is awarded when students achieve specific goals, as demonstrated through tests, regardless of the time it takes to pass them.


Although the Chronicle article states financial aid could make the programs more viable for colleges nationally, professors and students differed on how they positive they thought the different learning environment might be.

Kelly Glassett, professor of curriculum and instruction, said he would be against launching such programs at the university. He said the university offers competency tests for core curriculum classes, but it has no programs based on the same principle. Those programs would not provide a clear example of how students learn, he said.

“With respect to education and being a teacher, I don’t think an exam is a good measure of what one can do in the classroom,” he said. “It is more of a performance-based type of situation.

Glassett said the traditional classroom setting offers more than an assessment. The tests only show how much students have retained, not how they learned it, he said.

A classroom semester offers more interaction than a competency assessment program would, Glassett said.

“I think (students) also lose the important social aspect of peers and interacting with peers and teachers and mentors,” he said.

However, Glassett said he did see some competency concept positives. Experienced adults returning to college might benefit the most from competency-based programs, and the ability to finish the program quicker could be beneficial. He said competency should be based more in internships or student teaching opportunities, since they provide real-world experience.


Deborah Barnett, nontraditional student programs director, agreed that nontraditional students could benefit from competency-based programs. Barnett said such exams such as the College Level Examination Program have benefitted nontraditional students in the past.

“Expanding the idea to include competency-based programs could be an exciting development if quality is maintained,” she said.

Barnett said nontraditional students sometimes have obligations such as work and family that make getting a degree through credit hours tougher. Even though competency-based classes may be completed faster, she said, the program must maintain high educational standards.

“As with any educational program, competency-based programs will need to do what the name implies, which is ensure that competencies or learning outcomes of the course or program have been achieved,” she said.

Degree completion time and teacher-student interaction were examples students highlighted when they gave differing opinions on competency-based programs.

Jasmen Welch, a sophomore from Chicago studying childhood development, said she liked the idea of a competency-based program.

“It seems easier and faster than getting credits, so I would say it’s better,” Welch said.

Michelle Hardimon, a sophomore from Peoria studying early childhood education, said she disliked the program because she prefers a classroom interaction versus a series of assessments.

“I don’t like the idea,” Hardimon said. “I would rather have a teacher to interact with me instead of assessments.”