Competency-based curriculum should be an integral part of Utah and America’s educational mix.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is coming under fire from his state's educational establishment for his proposal to supplement Ohio's higher education system with programs provided by Utah-based Western Governors University. Bruce Johnson, who serves as president of the Ohio Inter University Council, expressed his displeasure in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch.
“We don’t understand it,” Johnson said. “Why does this out-of-state institution need to be an in-state institution?”
Johnson's comments likely belie fears about competition with competency-based curriculum as well as a misunderstanding of how WGU operates.
Yes, the school is headquartered in Utah, but it provides unique programs in individual states, complete with live graduation ceremonies held throughout the country. Ohio already has more than 2,000 students participating in WGU programs, and the online nature of the school makes the in-state/out-of-state distinction somewhat obsolete.
What's encouraging about Kasich's efforts, however, is that they're focused less on WGU's online convenience and more on the benefits of competency-based education.
“The beauty of competency-based education is that you can show what you know over time,” Kasich told the Dispatch. “You can, at your own speed, show your qualifications and be able to earn a credential that puts you in a position of being able to get a really good job."
This competency-based approach has encountered fierce resistance from an education system that often seems more interested in following tradition than getting results. Many four-year degrees grant more prestige than marketability, and students who graduate from universities often find that there is little correlation between the often-esoteric degree they earn and employers who are willing to hire them.
This is not to say the traditional higher educational models and institutions should be jettisoned, and that’s not what Gov. Kasich proposes. Rather, at their best, WGU and other similar programs help provide additional options for students.
Unlike many traditional universities, WGU was designed specifically with input from employers, who collaborated with the online school to help fashion a curriculum that would produce the kinds of skills that employers need. Competency-based education, therefore, also has the advantage of increased practicality.
Other Utah schools have taken note. For example, a few programs at Weber State University and Utah Valley University have already begun experimenting with competency-based curriculum.
Yet, this experimentation should extend beyond higher education.
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Utah's Juab School District, for example, has a program that permits students to advance based on competency and learn from sources both inside and outside the classroom While this kind of approach may not work for every student, its part of greater options for learners.
Governor Kasich's decision to incorporate WGU into Ohio's system is a laudable effort to kickstart the process of focusing more on competency than pedigree. Educational reform requires a willingness to innovate and apply best practices to solve problems. Competency-based programs should become part of a wide array of innovations that have similarly demonstrated their educational value.