Know the Bandwagon You are Jumping on

Its boosters are certain that competency-based education is the next “disruptive innovation” in higher education. This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education is a bit slanted in that direction, but it does drop a few hints at the other side of the debate, noting that when systems go whole hog down this path “it takes faculty out of their role as teachers, turning them into coaches, curators, and graders.” 

More importantly, I think, is how the article reflects the failure of the non-boosters to provide a persuasive account of why conventional instruction in the liberal arts might be superior to “study on your own, take the exam when you’re ready” approach. Or, rather, their failure to get the idea across to journalists well enough for it to come out as something other than a vague  praise of “the intellectual journey.” One spokesman for conventional higher education was quoted as saying: 

the role that colleges play should serve the goal of a truly liberal education, which is often idiosyncratic, depends on the people involved, and resistant to standardization

in a manner that makes it sounds like this is the big problem.  As is the case with soooo much of the discourse about higher education, this conversation is seriously muddled by the fact that participants have a financial and cultural stake in the outcome that seems, pretty consistently, to bias analyses and opinions.

College, On Your Own
Competency-Based education can help motivated students.
But critics say it’s no panacea.
By Dan Berrret
Nichelle Pollock felt like she was moving through college in slow motion. In seven years she had gotten about half way through her bachelor’s degree. But recently, she’s been racing forward, racking up 50 credits in just 8 months….

For Some Colleges Financial Challenges Continue

This article from current Chronicle of Higher Education describes

a number of small colleges that continue to teeter on the edge even after the wider economic recovery.

Some factors that seem common in these stories are small size, niche focus (e.g., geographic or religious), recent lavish expenditures on attractive new facilities,(especially non-academic ones), and poorly timed optimism around fundraising.
Responses including layoffs, cutting under-enrolled programs, selling non-core real estate, drastic tuition cuts, expanding online offerings, adding professional programs

Smart Institutional Practices Around Interdisciplinary Hiring

Interesting misleading headline in this article from COHE.  Gist of the story is folks at North Carolina State University recognized that cross-disciplinary hiring challenges organizational status quo – especially department level control of resources – and that this manifests in, among other places, tenure and promotion.  Their response was to take the bull by the horns and create evaluation process and funding scheme to attenuate these effects.  No small part of the challenges emerge from departmental understanding that a primary component of their raison d’être is producing basic research.  As definitions of what that means shift change can be expected.  And over time we can expect that colleges that do not have primary research results as a fundamental output will catch on in the spirit of “if they can do it, maybe we can too.”

Read more at COHE