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Aurora Institute

Rights-Sizing Higher Education

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Federal Policy, Modernize HEA

Jobs and freedom march on Washington
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The word is tossed around these days, and I always have to think about why disruption is good for students, especially those that are underserved, rather than the companies that are grabbing a piece of the market through a new product or service.

In summarizing the new paper by Michelle R. Weise and Clayton Christensen, Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution, Michael Horn writes in his blog Move over MOOCs, it’s online, competency time:

As they argue, online, competency-based schools represent the right learning model—focused on actual mastery of knowledge, skills, and dispositions—with the right technology of online learning, targeted at the right customers—non-consumers who are over-served by the value proposition that traditional colleges and universities offer and searching for a new value proposition from college aligned around workforce needs—paired with the right business model that is low cost, low-priced, and sustainable.

It all comes down to reaching non-consumers. There is no doubt that online, competency education in higher education can be disruptive, allowing people to get a better price for the exact skills they need for entry into or moving up the labor market ladder. Hire Education outlines the inefficiencies in higher education—such as time is fixed, professors are the source of all knowledge, and knowledge is separated from training or the application of the knowledge to specific workplace contexts—that are addressed by online-competency education.

I assume if higher education is streamlined into an online, competency-based model with a substantial price reduction, people who have been priced out of the higher education will have access. However, I think there may be another benefit for low-income youth and adults, especially those who have had to navigate institutional racism on their way to entering the labor market. If the entry into the workplace becomes more mastery-based than credential-based, might we see a more level playing field? If students who have been pushed out of school into jail and denied Pell grants, making it more difficult to get some college or training, can take advantage of lower training costs and demonstrate that they are the best skilled, are we also rights-sizing employment and training? Will people be able to compete for jobs based on their skills rather than their educational resumes?