New Directions for Higher Education: Q&A with CAEL’s Tate on Prior Learning, Competency-Based Ed | SCUP Links |

DiSalvio: Some note that the greatest risk to traditional higher education is the growing interest in competency-based or prior-learning education models. Could you explain the source of this alarm?

Tate: I think the source of the alarm is different for prior-learning assessment than it is for competency-based education. On the prior-learning assessment side, what most people are concerned about is that it will take students away from the classroom. The fear is that it will reduce the participation of students in courses. And further, that the faculty will have less of a role in the students’ education because so much of the learning will be coming from outside the classroom.

The quality question that is frequently raised is: “How do we know that the student really has this knowledge?” But when you get under that question, you find that the concern is really that the faculty will not have the same control over a student’s learning as they would if it were under their auspices in their classrooms, internships or research. So there is some reasonable amount of alarm over faculty loss of control. Usually that makes its way into a quality argument. But it’s often really about the issue of control, rather than quality.

On the financial side, there is fear that prior-learning assessment will diminish full-time equivalent enrollment generation. The financial concern and the faculty concern are very closely related. The financial issue is related to the potential loss of credits—and revenue—generated within the institution. These are legitimate concerns, but what we try to demonstrate is that people, in fact, don’t take fewer credits, but rather tend to take more credits because they stay in school longer and are more likely to graduate. They tend to persist and this means the institution will not lose the revenue.