As the cost of college tuition rises and students emerge with ever more debt, the interest in alternative paths to higher education has increased. The Department of Education is supportive of competency-based higher education models that allow students to demonstrate their proficiency in the areas necessary for their degree without requiring a fixed number of courses or credits. Instead, students move through the material at their own pace, from home.
Advocates for competency-based university degrees say the model opens up higher education to more people with a lower price tag and more flexibility. While that could be true for the motivated, self-directed learner who thrives learning on her own, other research shows that learning is a profoundly social process. What is lost when students are learning from home, at their own pace, even if it is one-on-one with a professor?
In her Atlantic article Alana Semuels writes:
"Still, it can be difficult for students to push themselves through the curriculum without deadlines or lectures. In the past year, for instance, Kippnick’s father has had heart surgery, her family has moved back to Michigan, they bought a house and started to renovate it. It’s been nearly impossible to find time to study, but that’s where her mentor comes in, offering sympathy while still urging her to keep working. WGU students must complete a minimum number of courses each term to stay in good academic standing, but if they have family issues, they can take a term break and resume their studies later.
Skipping the classroom has its advantages. Kippnick says that when she went to community college in Michigan, many of her fellow students weren’t focused and would waste class time by goofing off or by not preparing ahead of time. Now, the only person that slows Kippnick down is herself. She says that prepares her for being disciplined in the working world, too."