Politics & Policies

Higher Education – Separating learning from credentialing

If we want more educational innovation and lower costs, as well as higher-quality educational outcomes, then it is time to break the legacy connection between teaching students and certifying their academic achievements and move to a model where students have alternative ways of demonstrating their knowledge and skills.

Across modern economies, innovators and entrepreneurs are marshaling the power of information technology to reorganize business processes and reimagine entire industries, thereby improving quality and lowering the costs of goods and services. But higher education has largely escaped such disruption, even as IT and the Internet have created new ways to research, learn, and impart knowledge. The reason is that colleges and universities hold a unique franchise: They are responsible for educating students and for granting them degrees. Schools thus lack incentive to help students learn outside the classroom, even if it would lower costs or be more effective, since it would cut into their revenue, and they lack incentive to raise standards for their degrees because it would drive away customers. Students meanwhile have little incentive to push themselves harder than necessary to earn their degrees, since degrees are opaque, deriving their value from institutional brands rather than clear measures of academic achievement. This paper argues that the federal government should spur reform by promoting alternatives to traditional college diplomas that allow individuals to more effectively demonstrate educational mastery to prospective employers. This would give students the freedom to pursue their own best options for learning, incentivize students to study harder and schools to teach better, and apply competitive pressure on colleges and universities to reduce the costs of education.

The federal government should solve this by fostering the creation of a national network of certified organizations that assess the learning and skills of young people before they enter the workplace. In its reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, Congress can move America’s higher education system in this direction by taking the following steps:

    • Establish a process to accredit organizations that provide certifications;
    • Encourage federal agencies to accept alternative certifications in lieu of degree requirements;
    • Require the administration to encourage the private sector to recognize and rely on alternative certifications in their hiring decisions;
    • Allow students to use federal aid for alternative learning options, such as MOOCs;
    • Ensure graduate programs consider applicants with alternative certifications; and
    • Require the administration to conduct a regular survey of employer needs.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Why it’s time to disrupt higher education by separating learning from credentialing

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