Reflections on the Mark Schneider interview
I agree with Mark that the real disruptive innovation in higher education over the next few years will be figuring out direct assessment. I wonder whether the Department of Education’s regulations will keep pace with developments in this area.
To do so the Department will have to part company with tradition in its use of “seat time” to calculate federal student aid awards and the notion that seat time roughly approximates the amount of work that must be accomplished in order to earn course credit. The Department will also have to implement staff and systems for the review of direct assessment programs.
Direct assessment brings together many of the themes that have dominated recent higher education policy discussions, including in our interviews over the past 1 ½ years. First, Mark is correct that as far as higher education institutions are concerned, the Department of Education is there to act as the bank, to increase access to higher education, but the economy is driving questions about quality and return on investment which can only be answered if we know what students are learning.
The interesting work of the University of Southern New Hampshire gives us a window into how higher education can be more affordable for students when it is assessment-based. The University’s model uses prior learning assessments to award credit for demonstrated competencies. Course credit is based on assessments of skills and knowledge, not the amount of time a student spends on task or an amount of work represented by the traditional credit hour. This model is attractive to advocates of outcomes assessment as a measure of quality (See e.g., RHE interviews with Carol Geary Schneider of AAC & U, David Paris of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability and Jamie Merisotis and Dewayne Matthews of the Lumina Foundation on this topic). It is also attractive to non-traditional students because it can shorten the amount of time it takes to complete a degree, can make degree programs more affordable and lower borrowing and student loan default rates. As Dr. Schneider points out, none of these benefits can be realized without a complimentary federal student aid policy that supports access to direct assessment programs especially as they become more prevalent.