The affordability of competency-based learning?

by on May 10, 2014 at 2:36 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

How good a degree will this be?:

The $10,000 bachelor’s degree remains elusive. But Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America has unveiled self-paced, competency-based degrees that students should be able to complete for that price, or less.

The private university’s regional accreditor, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, last week gave a green light to online bachelor’s degrees in health care management and communications from College for America, which is a nonprofit subsidiary of the university.

The college first began enrolling students last year. Until this week its sole option was an associate degree in general studies.

Tuition and fees at College for America are $1,250 per six-month term. The college uses a subscription-style model in which students can complete assessments at their own speed. The associate degree is designed for students to complete in an average of two years — at a cost of $5,000.

And:

…students can go from start to finish in four years, spending a total of $10,000…

Tuition subsidies will bring the price down further for many students. The college is heavily focused on employer partnerships, and has brokered arrangements with 50 companies and nonprofit employers, including McDonald’s, Sodexo and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. Employers steer potential students to the college. Most also cover some of the tuition.

The defined scholastic year has two twenty-six week terms, with no break.  There is more here.  By the way, here is a new proposal for accreditation on a class-by-class basis, so as to cover on-line education.

Steve Sailer May 10, 2014 at 2:57 am

I think what the market really wants is for tuition to be more expensive and schools harder to get into: e.g., one student gets to pay a billion dollars to have Warren Buffett as his personal MBA tutor.

Moreno Klaus May 10, 2014 at 8:35 am

It might be what the market wants (dubious, then only if you are a genious or have rich parents you can make it…so less competition for places right?) , but certainly not what I would want… Admission criteria can and should be strict, but don’t ilude yourself, high tuition fees = chance of a guy out of a poor family to make it, virtually nihil. I come from a poor background (single mom, etc) … but luckily i was born in a EU country and had a chance to move to a good university for a reasonable price. So now I know i can move to middle class (though there are no free lunches… had to work a lot to make it!)

andrew' May 10, 2014 at 3:22 am

Wake me up when you can do it while working full time.

andrew' May 10, 2014 at 3:30 am

(Not being snide, just reminding oneself it is $10,000+ the ~$200,000 opportunity cost.)

prior_approval May 10, 2014 at 4:39 am

GMU specializes in this area (not on price, obviously). For example, courses are offered in the evenings, and the size of GMU’s parking lots is one of the things that other Virginia universities cannot even begin to approach.

From 2010 – ‘At George Mason, the change has been fueled in part by a construction boom. A decade ago, dormitories held space for fewer than 3,000 students. Capacity is now at 5,400, with room for another 600 beds under construction and expected to be completed by 2012, said Jana Hurley, the university’s executive director of housing and residence life.

That means that about a third of George Mason’s full-time undergraduate students are living on campus, a high enough percentage to be classified as “primarily residential” by Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Schools with higher percentages of students living on campus are considered “highly residential.”‘ http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700095239/George-Mason-eager-to-shed-commuter-school-status.html?pg=all

Never forget – GMU is all about perception, something that a number of people associated with the university have gotten quite good at wielding.

Steve Sailer May 10, 2014 at 5:21 pm

The problem with commuter schools like George Mason in the past is that they give feminists fewer chances to complaint about the rising epidemic of sexual assault on campus since nobody is on campus after 9 pm. You’re not a prestigious university unless Eric Holder’s Justice Department isn’t actively pursuing at least three investigations of whether acts of drunken sex on campus rise to the level of sexual assault.

Bill May 10, 2014 at 6:40 am

I think competency based testing is great, and can also assist in another problems colleges face: prerequisites for taking other classes. In some departments, there is very little coordination between professors who teach the intro course and those who teach the more advanced follow on course. Consequently, when the student gets to the advanced course, they may have missed something they should have been taught earlier. Competency based testing not only signals achievement, but helps in coordinating the hand off of a student to the next class.

Now, we just need to avoid dumbing down of tests.

anonymous May 10, 2014 at 11:57 am

Assuming prerequisite requirements are reasonably accurate, college students should be capable of identifying and reading up (or internet-ing up) to correct any gaps in their preparation. Certainly they will need to be able to do this for the rest of their career…

Z May 10, 2014 at 9:33 am

Stories like this remind me that, down the road, the usual suspects will be on TV shrieking in horror as it becomes clear the education rackets are nothing like they imagined. That point will be when young people are volunteering for IQ tests and presenting the results on their resumes. Perhaps adding a Big Five Personality result.

Jan May 10, 2014 at 10:12 am

You people should be doing that now if they think it gives them an advantage.

Jan May 10, 2014 at 10:14 am

Sorry. I meant _young_ people. Not “you” people.

Z May 10, 2014 at 10:35 am

I think we all know what you meant by “you people.”

It is always hilarious when the mask drops.

Jan May 10, 2014 at 11:10 am

Ha, hilarious, like when Alex “accidentally” highlighted minorities making stupid medical mistakes that other !

But seriously, why don’t people do that now if it would help them?

Jan May 10, 2014 at 10:12 am

The old “get McDonald’s to pay for your college” racket, eh?

jseliger May 10, 2014 at 11:31 am

How good a degree will this be?

A fair comment, but after reading Paying for the Party and Academically Adrift I wonder how many degrees are “good” at all.

DMS May 10, 2014 at 12:01 pm

But where are the parties?
You can’t graduate from college without parties.

anonymous May 10, 2014 at 12:40 pm

I’m pretty doubtful about any serious kind of $10K degree.

In the US, the cost for public education is > $10K/student/year.

At the college level, some costs are clearly lower (14 year old kids need more supervision than adults), but others are higher (labs, computing facilities, more specialized instructors). A lot of costs are probably similar: administration, HR, handling federal and state regulation, record-keeping, IT, accounting, legal etc.

Offering a 4-year $10K degree, they expect to be able to cut ALL costs by at least a factor of 4. Not just instruction/quadrupling class size, but also cutting all administrative overhead, IT infrastructure, and student support costs by a factor of four relative to elementary or high school.

Pretty much any useful degree is going to require non-trivial lab or practicum work, which will have higher, not lower, costs than at the high school level. (Even replicating facilities of a decent vo-tech public high school is likely to cost roughly the same as … well, a decent vo-tech public high school.)

I’m sure these folks are well-intentioned to provide a “college degree” for $10K But I can’t see that it will give students much to attract an employer.

Moreno Klaus May 10, 2014 at 1:03 pm

If in europe is possible why not in the us? And it is not like staff are wellpayed (except at the top 5% maybe…)

Clover May 10, 2014 at 1:24 pm

I doubt education will change much because anyone who can get into really good colleges will, it is still a much better deal to go to a good college than a bargain college. A good college that costs 50,000 will be a better deal than a crappy college that costs 10,000 because the individual will have at least forty years to make that 40,000$ back(with interest, I know), 1,000$ a year isn’t much money.(Of course the ten thousand dollar college solution doesn’t account for living expenses) Good colleges are good not because they are better at teaching but because they have better prestige. I don’t see the good colleges changing much because they are run to benefit the people who run them, who will have an interest in preserving the status quo.

Brenton May 10, 2014 at 3:24 pm

I thought Western Governors University already offered self paced, competency based degrees.

Brenton May 10, 2014 at 3:24 pm

And there are anecdotal reports online of people finishing them in 1.5 years, which would mean “under $10,000″..

John Henry May 10, 2014 at 8:18 pm

I’ve taught for Southern New Hampshire College since 1982 as an adjunct. Usually 2-4 classes a year in the MBA program but occasionally taking a class in undergrad. (Including Econ 101 a few times)

I taught at a satellite campus on Roosevelt Roads Naval Station from 1982 until it closed in 2004 and, since then in the online MBA program.

I also have an master of Science in Business education from SNHU’s school of education (2004)

These were not executive MBAs, they were 36 credit hours. As was the MSBE. Classes were 1 night a week, 4 hours per class (6:00-10:00)

SNHU has a long history 40 years or more, running satellite campuses for the military. At one time they had 25 or so, plus 4-5 campuses in NH.

The online courses, I teach Operations Management and Strategic Management, are highly structured with students required to submit 8-10 things a week ranging from a blog post to a chat comment to a wiki entry, case study, research paper or other things. As a student, I suspect that it is a lot more work than the comparable classroom version of the course.

To whoever said they wanted to see people do it full time: Virtually all of my students in class or online were working full time jobs.

I got my BA while in the Navy working full time by attending night school. I got my MBA while working 50-60 hours a week as maintenance manager in a pharma plant and driving 100 miles round trip 2 nights a week to school. (Fortunately there was no snow and it was not uphill both ways)

So, yeah, it can be done. Not easy but nothing worthwhile ever is, is it?

John Henry

John Henry May 10, 2014 at 8:25 pm

One other comment on quality of the night school v day school:

I attended an MBA program run by a local university on an army base (Fort Buchanan). The same school also had a day program for regular students. That is, they did not work, for the most part. Most night school students had full time day jobs.

All prospective graduates of the MBA program had to take a comprehensive exam, given twice a year. Four hours in the morning on core courses, 4 in the afternoon on concentration courses. It was pretty brutal. A friend who was an attorney thought it harder than the bar exam.

The night school had about a 60% first time pass rate.

The regular school had about a 45% first time pass rate.

The school was InterAmerican University, for those interested.

John Henry

John Henry May 10, 2014 at 8:34 pm

And if you can stand one more comment:

The SNHU program at Roosevelt Roads had a clause in its contract where they had to offer courses to allow students to graduate in 3 years (BA-120 credits) or 3 years (MBA and other masters – 36 credits).

They did 4 12 week terms per year for grad and 5(?) 8 week terms for undergrad

I once taught a class of 3 students because it was required for completion.

The normal rotation on the base was 3-4 years. Any sailor who began when they got there was guaranteed that they could finish before they transferred out.

John Henry

Steve Brecher May 11, 2014 at 3:40 pm

I want to learn what the additional syllable in “competency” adds to “competence”.

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