Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Charter Oak Receives Next Generation Grant

I have just returned from a wonderful three-day working meeting in Seattle held at the Gates Foundation headquarters. Charter Oak has been named a Next Generation Learning Challenge school, and we were funded to bring a team of 8 staff members representing senior administration, information technology, learning design, institutional effectiveness, and prior learning assessment to the working meeting. This is phase two of the Next Gen program funded by Gates, and they asked EDUCAUSE and the Innovation League to operate the program. Our eight-institution group is referred to as the Breakthrough Incubator Institutions. We are all pretty excited about both the honor and the work.

We were invited to apply for the funding by imagining a Breakthrough Project that we could manage if they gave us $100,000 in seed money. We proposed growing our competency-based learning initiatives -- testing, portfolios, and assessment of non-collegiate learning -- and increasing the amount of Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) credit on our graduates' transcripts from the current 13% to approximately 20%.

If we succeed in encouraging our adult students to implement more of our PLA choices, they will save money, graduate faster, and graduate at higher percentages. The Foundation was intrigued by this argument and our approach. So off to Seattle we flew for a series of 12 hour days. It was invigorating, creative, and we came to see our program more clearly. Our group will work toward a January launch date for our effort.

I write this just before I leave for a second trip related to this work. A group of us from Charter Oak (do you sense a pattern here?) have been funded to fly to Chicago for two days of conversation around how to get Federal Title IV financial aid to flow to competency-based learning programs. Currently, Title IV dollars (Pell grants) can be used to support courses but not tests or portfolios (even though these are less expensive options). So we have been part of a group of institutions fighting to get the Department of Education to allow either a Demonstration Program or a Pilot Program that makes competency-based programs eligible for federal financial aid. The Charter Oak vision for this is that the federal dollars should follow student choice not dictate it. If a student sees a test or a portfolio as the best choice for them, then their financial aid should empower this choice, not resist it.

So wish us luck. Higher Education is under real pressure to lower its cost while improving its outcomes. For our students, we believe we have the right approach to accomplish both of those goals, and prior learning assessment is the solution. And as always, I’d be interested in hearing from those of you that have used or are using some of these methods to gain college credit and what you thought of the value of that experience.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Charter Oak's First Effort at the Master's Level

We have been working toward our first Master's Degree in Organizational Effectiveness for a long time (a very long time). This week we actually launched our first effort at this level and how that occurred will surprise some of you.

I attended a press conference at the Connecticut Science Center on July 2nd to announce the launch of the Joyce D. and Andrew J. Mandell Academy for Teachers. The Science Center has created a program of hands on science learning for Connecticut's K-12 teachers, and at the launch they were lauded by the Governor, the Mayor of Hartford, and Stefan Pryor, Commissioner of Education, to name a few. In addition, they attracted the support of the Mandell family in the form of a major donation, so they are currently educating 50 teachers.

The piece of this story that speaks to Charter Oak is that we performed a CCAP evaluation of this educational program and found that it is deserving of nine graduate credits. You read that correctly. So this program is now Charter Oak's first graduate program. Notice that it involved our CCAP approach of using a team of faculty to assess training offered by someone else for College credit. This was the first time we used our master's level authority. Now, if the Science Center enrolls the 1500 teachers they are planning to serve, the number of graduate credits that will be placed on a Charter Oak transcript should be substantial.

When Matt Fleury, the Science Center CEO and our alum, brought me to the podium, I used my three minutes to comment on how Charter Oak is poised to build a bridge between corporate training and higher education that will make the trip to a credential shorter and less expensive for everyone who travels it. I took some pleasure in seeing several heads turn in surprise.

Happy Summer!