SOURCE: College for America

April 01, 2013 18:25 ET

College for America: The President's Plan in Pilot

State of the Union Calls for Competency-Based College Now Being Tested Nationally

MANCHESTER, NH--(Marketwire - April 01, 2013) - College was a prominent theme of the President's State of the Union address with a strong call for workforce tailored higher education reform in the areas of cost, access and accountability. The first of these national low-cost, competency-based programs -- College for America -- is now in pilot in several workplaces across the country.

Developed by Southern New Hampshire University's (SNHU) Innovation Lab, College for America is a competency-based, online program that offers an Associate of Arts degree based on definable skills and measurable results. Established in 2012 with an Educause/Bill and Melinda Gates grant, the college was designed to rebuild higher education, strengthen the American workforce and diminish the major barriers to a college-level education -- rising tuition costs, geography, intensely competitive learning environments and impracticality -- for working adults.

The college, which is offered to working students through their employer, has no classes, instructors or grades in the traditional sense. Instead, students work through self-paced material and are tested on their mastery of 120 competencies, where they complete specific tasks, which are scored by trained reviewers using analytic rubrics. The cost of the program is low -- $2,500 a year, all-inclusive.

"The President's plan to reshape American higher education is perfectly aligned with College for America's fundamental mission," said Paul LeBlanc, President of SNHU and leader on the effort to innovate the program. "The U.S. is falling behind in college completion and major employers in manufacturing, health care, hospitality and technology are reporting a shortage of basic skills needed to succeed in the workplace. Our program delivers an all-new kind of degree that gives workers the college-level skills needed to advance their careers, their organization and their lives."

In his State of the Union address, the President called for extensive changes to the criteria accreditors use to evaluate colleges, asking Congress to either require accreditors to take college prices and educational value into account or to create an alternative system based on "performance and results."

College for America's competency-based structure focuses largely on performance and results, rather than seat time. The model aims to ensure that students have acquired the most relevant, necessary and measurable workforce skills -- communication, critical and creative thinking, quantitative literacy and collaboration.

Workforce Strategy Center, a consulting think tank established to align education and workforce development with employer needs and economic growth, has recently become part of the university as part of its effort to better align competencies with workplace demands.

"This collaboration is an important step in our unified strategy to align higher education with employer demand," said Julian L. Alssid, chief workforce strategist and nationally recognized expert in workforce development innovation and policy. "Today more and more employers are saying applicants lack the right type of skills. We were brought on board to ensure that the competencies within the program have labor market value and that the students' tasks and outcomes are relevant to employer needs. And our two groups will ensure the best thinking in education, workforce development and economic growth."

To control the growing cost of college and unsustainable student debt, the President specifically proposed that Congress revise the Higher Education Act "so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid."

The ideas presented by the President in his address were later fleshed out by a supporting document released by the White House. In it, the President proposes changes especially in accreditation:

"The President will call on Congress to consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results."

President Obama ended the topic of education reform by saying, "To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today's jobs require."

SNHU President LeBlanc couldn't agree more with the proposals.

"The President clearly understands that transforming the current system of accreditation and federal financial aid legislation is directly linked to our nation's ability to provide economic opportunities for our citizens," said LeBlanc. "And his endorsement of performance and results signals the increased need for competency-based approaches like the College for America model."

"Expanded educational access and proper training is the best pathway to strengthen the workforce," said LeBlanc. "By building competencies rather than credits and reducing the cost burden, College for America breaks down the barriers to college-level education for millions and is poised to help put America back in its position of global leadership. Our program was designed to make college accessible, relevant and transparent, and its purpose is perfectly in balance with the national educational and workforce priorities addressed in the State of the Union."

About College for America

College for America is a competency-based, self-paced, online program created to deliver an innovative solution to the most pressing problems of cost, access and quality in higher education throughout the United States and around the world. Established in 2012 with an EDUCAUSE Next Generational Learning Challenge grant, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, College for America is designed to rebuild higher education and strengthen the American workforce.

Developed in Southern New Hampshire University's Innovation Lab, College for America has been evaluated by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges/Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC). The college's program began in January 2013.

Southern New Hampshire University is a private institution with a traditional campus serving 3500 students, is the fourth largest non-profit online provider in the U.S., and was named #12 on Fast Company's "2012 World's Most Innovative Companies List."

For more information, visit http://www.collegeforamerica.org.

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