Monday, July 9, 2012

Back to the Future

I’ve just returned from a panel presentation in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Lumina and Gates Foundations.  They asked me to be part of a small panel of institutions that are working to offer students a competency-based approach to higher education.  Specifically, Lumina and Gates are actively working to lower the cost of higher education by exploring alternative approaches to traditional college courses.  Their theory is that working adults have various skills and competences that could be assessed for college credit. Furthermore, they believe that adult students can learn independently using a variety of free or low-cost online courseware.

Charter Oak was placed in the mix because we have been working to provide such competency-based approaches to higher education for our entire 40-year history.  Lumina matched several new programs with our longstanding efforts to show the policy community in D.C. that competency-based learning is both tested and growing. 

I spent my time talking about our Portfolio, Testing, and CCAP programs.  The audience, mostly congressional staffers and D.C. organizations, was surprised and pleased to learn that we regularly graduate students who have completed a bachelor’s degree through testing for a little as $8,000.  They were also amazed to learn that through our CCAP program we can assess workplace learning (e.g. the State Police Academy or the Carpenters Union training program) and grant college credit for these robust training experiences.

 I explained that our Public Safety program attracts police and fire department employees because we value their training and help them use it as part of their degree program.  This approach speeds up their degree attainment and lowers the cost.  I think Lumina was very attracted to this approach.

 All the institutional presenters were offering models for degree attainment that shortened the time frame and offered more flexible curricula (through time shifting, online offerings, and prior learning assessment).  Each institution is working to lower the cost, shorten the time, and validate what students know.  I believe that this is the next big thing in higher education as the public pressure to lower costs increases.  The good news for Charter Oak is that the next big thing is something we have been working at for our entire history.

As always, I value your input as we make our plans.  If you have done an analysis of the cost of your Charter Oak degree or the savings you attained from using our approaches, I would love to hear from you. Your experience is the sort of “real world” evidence that would help me convince organizations like the Lumina and Gates Foundations that Charter Oak’s story and programs are valuable assets in this shift in higher education.  Please let me know in comments, or email me at