Monthly Archives: March 2014

March 25, 2014

Competency Based Financial Aid

Not long ago, we reported on the Carnegie Foundation’s announcement to reevaluate the Credit Hour unit of academic measure. It has been speculated that the Carnegie Foundation will begin to shift away from time-based measures in favor of competency-based units of learning. While the results of the Carnegie Foundation’s study won’t be expected for years, the Department of Education is introducing pathways for utilizing competency measures in financial aid reward packages.

financial-aid-101Competency-based programs in the US began at Excelsior College (formerly known as Regent’s College). Introduced in the 1970′s to benefit homemakers, returning veterans, and adults looking to further their education, Excelsior offered associate’s degrees based on standardized tests and credit transfer. The model spread to other institutions, and today there are more than 20 schools that currently use or are implementing competency-based programs. These programs can award degrees based on a number of factors including testing, clinical observation, portfolio reviews, and other methods that cater to the field of study under review.

While these programs have been widely accepted, the Department of Education historically had no way of incorporating competency credits into the process of awarding federal financial aid. But on March 19, 2013, the Department of Education announced the amendment of the Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2005 to allow for the consideration of competency-based direct assessments of learning in lieu of credit hours for financial aid. This means that competency-based programs will no longer have to convert their learning assessments into credit hours and eliminates the dubious estimation of “seat time” in measuring learning in these cases.

It should be noted that these measures have not yet been tested in practice, and that the Department of Education is keeping the dialogue open with colleges and universities. Sylvia Manning, president of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional accreditor, said, “Experience will show how workable this process is.”

For a school looking towards non-traditional admissions procedures, a non-traditional admissions software is a very important tool. AMP paperless admissions offers software built to suit your specific admissions needs, and their technical analysts can help to advise your admissions office on best practices for non-traditional admissions requirements.

March 10, 2014

Rethinking the Credit Hour

In 2013, the Carnegie Foundation announced plans to reevaluate the United States’ standard of measuring learning – the “credit hour.”

You might be surprised to learn that the credit hour was never intended to measure student learning. Andrew Carnegie invented the credit hour in the early 1900′s as a way to create a pension system for college professors. Under Carnegie’s new credit hour system, professors were considered full time if they taught in the classroom for a minimum of 12 hours per week in a 15 week semester. But a few decades after the credit hour pension system was put into place, colleges swelled with veterans of WWII. Universities needed a method for measuring classroom “seat time” and the credit hour was the most convenient way to track student progress. It soon became the national standard for determining the amount of learning that a student received.

Using a unit that was never intended to measure learning has many drawbacks. First, credit hours aren’t a standard unit to measure competency; they are simply a measure of hours spent in the classroom. There is no way of determining if credits at one school will deliver the equivalent amount of learning as the same course at another school. One college might give a science course a weight of 3 credit hours – but those credits won’t necessarily be accepted by another school. Schools simply don’t trust the credit system beyond their own internal standards because there are no external standards to measure the credit hour. Technically, grades are supposed to be the external standard for measuring competency but grade inflation is widespread, exacerbating the problem. For students who transfer schools, this results in difficulties meeting course requirements and wasted money on credits that don’t transfer.

Another drawback to the credit hour is the recent trend towards online learning. Measuring classroom time seems a little silly when there is no classroom, doesn’t it? But online course offerings have little choice but to measure in credit hours if they want to give their students credit. This has led to abuses of the credit hour system. In November 2012, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a damning report about an obscure online college that offered 3 college credits for 10 days of online classes. Their highly questionable courses were especially attractive for student athletes. “You jump online, finish in a week and a half, get your grade posted, and you’re bowl-eligible,” says one Big Ten academic adviser. Abuses like this further dilute the shaky legitimacy of the credit hour.

Another problem with the credit hour is that it doesn’t take into account independent learning opportunities outside of the Ivory Tower. Employees can gain valuable high-level knowledge while on the job without ever setting foot into a classroom, but there is no way for them to actually measure the level of the skills they have gained. With the democratization of education through non-credit bearing MOOCs, the credit hour falls further into obscurity. The value of MOOCs will no doubt be closely tied with the quality of curriculum, not the number of “classroom” hours arbitrarily attached to courses. It seems that the solution to this problem lies somewhere in creating a standard for competency across many disciplines; a baseline for informing students what they need to know in order to be successful in their chosen field.

With more than 100 years of using the credit hour, changes will be slow to arrive and difficult to implement. Hopefully the Carnegie Foundation will introduce a new method for measuring student learning that can be equated across all schools and learning styles. In the meantime, the credit hour will remain king as the standard for measuring student learning for graduation and for admissions.

Can you imagine a world without the credit hour?

March 4, 2014

Shaking Up the Status Quo of Med School Admissions with Holistic Review

Amidst a looming doctor shortage, the use of holistic review in medical admissions is gaining traction. Holistic review is a an approach to admissions wherein the applicant’s non-cognitive attributes such as personality, empathy, investment in learning, and confidence are reviewed alongside the typical cognitive focused admissions criterion such as test scores, letters of recommendation, and GPA. In taking a step back to look at the applicant as a whole person instead as a set of applicant data, medical schools hope to increase student diversity and engagement, and to ensure the quality and preparedness of future physicians.

Holistic review has been implemented in a handful of medical admissions departments as throughout the country and the Association of American Medical Colleges has shown its’ support by introducing an initiative to explore the topic.  This initiative aims to develop best practices in implementing holistic review in medical schools through inter-institutional collaboration, professional support, and research. For the AAMC, the end goal of holistic review is to ” increase the presence of individuals from underrepresented populations in medicine.”

As defined by the AAMC, holistic review is

“…a flexible, highly-individualized process by which balanced consideration is given to the multiple ways in which applicants may prepare for and demonstrate suitability as medical students and future physicians. Under a holistic review framework, candidates are evaluated by criteria that are institution-specific, broad-based, and mission-driven and that are applied equitably across the entire candidate pool.”

Holistic review offers many benefits for schools that aim to achieve focused changes within their applicant pool. Boston University School of Medicine implemented holistic review in 2003 and later found favorable results in their medical school classes; while standard measures of success (such as test scores and GPA) remained about the same as previous years, they found that diversity increased as well as overall student engagement, both in the classroom and outside.

“The general sense of the faculty, particularly those who teach our small-group problem seminars, is that the students are more collegial, more supportive of one another, more engaged in the curriculum, and more open to new ideas and to perspectives different from their own.” (Witzburgh & Sondheimer)

When considering a jump to holistic review, medical school admissions offices must first carefully evaluate best practices for holistic review, their programs’s mission, and the school’s long term admissions goals. It is important to approach this change with preparedness in mind. AMP paperless admissions is the perfect software tool to handle your new admissions process because their development team recently custom-built a module specifically for a holistic admissions workflow. Very few admissions software companies cater to new trends in admissions, but AMP paperless admissions has always been on the cutting edge of building tools for new admissions processes.