A new survey from the Lumina Foundation and the Gallup polling organization indicates that the general public wants changes in higher education to award credit for what students already know. The poll has a number of interesting findings, even if none is particularly shocking. The public also thinks higher education costs too much, for instance.
Incidentally, the greatest agreement is on the perceived value of higher education. Ninety-seven percent said it is important to have a certificate or degree beyond high school. These perceptions are, of necessity, based on current practices at colleges and unversities—in other words, the status quo. It would likely be impossible to get such high numbers on any other subject today.
Here's the official announcement, which contains a link to the full report. One can always dispute the language used in survey questions (Who wouldn't want credit for prior experience and ability?) But the organizations conducting the poll are obviously reputable, and they possess the resources necessary to do it right.
Regarding credits for prior knowledge (or skill), presumably this can take many forms. Those who served as medics in combat, for instance, believe they should receive college nursing credits, reflecting their military training and first-hand history of doing the job under pressure.
However, the gorilla in the room is a proposed (by some) system of competency-based instruction, which would replace seat time with student achievement scores that are distinct from the traditional way we measure success—namely grades from teachers. The approach is already used in some fields, most notably in developmental education. Proprietary schools in their advertisements attract students by promising credit for previous experience. Who needs those pesky English and math courses?
Here are some pertinent findings of the survey, from the official statement.
Americans want a new system of credentials that is focused on learning outcomes and competencies:
- Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they believe students should be able to receive college credit for knowledge and skills acquired outside of the classroom.
- Seventy-five percent indicated they would be more likely to enroll in a higher education program if they could be evaluated and receive credit for what they already know.
- Seventy percent don’t believe learning should be time based and agree that if a student demonstrates they have mastered class material in less than the traditional 16-week session, they should be able to get credit for the course without sitting through the entire 16 weeks.
To do this on a large scale, it seems obvious that many, many, standardized tests would be necessary. Teachers give plenty of exams already, of course, but wouldn't they need to be uniform in order to be "data-driven" and hence valid? What if one school adopted easier standards or metrics than another? Sure, some individual teachers are, and always have been, easier than others, but standardized measurements contain their own unique set of problems.
When you ask college faculty members about competency-based metrics, they often express concern about a "cookie-cutter" approach to education, which is likely inevitable with quantifiable standards. Those who teach in the liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, and fine arts are especially skeptical. If judgments regarding standards remain in the hands of the individual teacher in each class, most are probably okay with the concept of proving competency, but one gets the impression that the purported reformers are interested in something else. Mention the current wave of "learning outcomes" around the camp fire, and you'll get an earful from teachers, especially those with experience in public education.
It will be interesting to see if the Texas public, already suffering from test fatigue in K-12, will go for this, in spite of their apparent, albeit abstract, support for the idea.