Home' Campus Technology : December 2013 Contents outcomes, competencies, and requirements, and then recon-
structing them as interdisciplinary courses. And because the
courses are competency-based, accounting for life experi-
ence—what Fred Hurst, NAU senior vice president, calls “hon-
oring a student’s prior knowledge”—presents no real problem.
“Students have been testing out of classes for a long time,”
explains Hurst. “This is really no different. If you are a book-
keeper who has been working under a CPA for 15 years, you’re
going to know a lot about accounting. You should get credit
for that. More important, if you already understand the material
and are forced to sit through a 15-week course, you’re going
to be bored out of your mind, and we might lose you.”
In recognition of the fact that competency-based learning
is still on the bleeding edge of education, NAU provides
students in its Personalized Learning program with both a
competency report and a traditional transcript.
“We believe that having a traditional transcript is still very im-
portant,” Hurst says. “Some employers want to see them, and
the only way the experiences gained in a competency-based
program can be interpreted for transfer to a traditional pro-
gram is in credit hours. And if you want to go to grad school,
it’s important that they have a more traditional transcript.”
Preparing faculty to make the transition to competency-based
learning is another significant challenge. “Until competen-
cies become part of the culture—and everyone understands
them—understanding the value of a competency-based edu-
CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | December 2013
TARGETING ADULT LEARNERS
Adult learners with some college credits and the potential to fill gaps in a state’s workforce are the most visible targets of
new competency-based programs around the country. The University of West Florida’s Complete Florida program, for
example, aims to provide associate and baccalaureate degrees aligned to workforce needs identified by the Board of Gov-
ernors’ Commission on Florida Higher Education Access and Degree Attainment. Although the program is still in develop-
ment, the competency-based model of instruction is considered key to making it a success, says Pam Northrup, the school’s
associate provost of academic innovation.
“There are about 2.2 million adults in the state who have some college and no degree,” Northrup says. “Many of them have
years of work experience, and they should get credit for that experience. They’ll have an opportunity to demonstrate their
competency, and that will appeal to a lot of people who want or need to finish up their degrees.”
The program will be fully online, but it will provide two degree pathways: an accelerated program that reduces seat time,
and a totally competency-based program. The school plans to implement the accelerated programs first, with a small cohort
in January. If all goes well, the Complete Florida program itself will launch in fall 2014. Northrup doesn’t expect to roll out a
full competency-based program until fall 2015.
Although the curriculum for Complete Florida is still being developed, the initial offering will focus on training learners to fill
employer needs. “We are identifying programs where there are jobs at the end of the story,” s ays Northrup. UWF plans to
give priority to military and veteran students for the program.
Northern Arizona University’s nascent Personalized Learning program, which the school bills as the first competency-
based, online degree program by a public university, also seeks to tap a rich vein of adult learners, says Fred Hurst, the
school’s senior vice president and the program’s original architect.
“We’ve been serving adult students for more than four decades, so it was very natural for us to develop this program,”
explains Hurst. “We had been talking about what might be the next step in adult education and how we might increase the
number of baccalaureate holders. Our Board of Regents was also very interested in degree-completion programs.”
The school started enrolling students in the program in May. The curriculum was developed for three bachelor’s degrees
already offered by the university: small business administration, computer information technology, and liberal arts. The first
two degrees provide a specific set of skills currently in demand in the workplace; the third targets adults who need to com-
plete a degree to move up in their careers.
“In a general sense, we’re looking for motivated students who have skills that are transferable to a degree program,” says Hurst.
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