The Beginning of the End of the Credit Hour

Paul Fein of Inside Higher Education reports that the U.S. Department of Education is encouraging experimentation in competency-based education. Specifically, they are allowing federal financial aid to be used for degree programs that are not built around the credit hour:

At College for America, for example, students work at their own pace on online assessments of 120 competencies. There are no courses or professors in the associate degree program, although faculty reviewers oversee assessments. The degree costs $2,500 per year, which could be $5,000 if a student works on it for two years, or $1,750 if he or she finishes in six months, according to Paul LeBlanc, Southern New Hampshire’s president.

Defenders of the credit hour raise the specter of fraud:

Department officials said they would take a cautious approach to granting eligibility to degree programs that sever ties to the credit hour, which has been used as a yard marker of quality in higher education for a century. One reason is to prevent fraud and the misuse of federal aid dollars, a risk they said applies to any form of higher education.

But as Amy Laitinen explains in “Cracking the Credit Hour,” defining courses in time-based rather than competency-based units is particularly harmful to the interests of nontraditional students. Part-time students hoping to complete a degree or upgrade their skills while working to support a family are at a particular disadvantage under a time-based approach. One interesting aspect of moving beyond the credit hour is that it might encourage individuals to invest in human capital throughout the life course. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

Most Popular


My American Dream

This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American. I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a ... Read More

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More

Billy Graham: Neither Prophet nor Theologian

Asked in 1972 if he believed in miracles, Billy Graham answered: Yes, Jesus performed some and there are many "miracles around us today, including television and airplanes." Graham was no theologian. Neither was he a prophet. Jesus said "a prophet hath no honor in his own country." Prophets take adversarial ... Read More