College Provost MaryBeth Hanner
The Carnegie Foundation recently announced that it will reexamine the Carnegie Unit that was created in 1906. In an era of new approaches to the delivery of higher education, and an increasing acceptance of credit for prior learning, it recognized that many educators think the credit hour is a very inadequate measure of a level of student learning.
As Amy Laitinen points out in her report “Cracking the Credit Hour,” the credit hour was not created to measure student learning or even the amount of time students spend in a course. Andrew Carnegie wanted to develop a system to help college professors get pensions. This pension system pushed colleges to measure courses in time-based units to identify workload and minimal thresholds for pension qualification.
“Whether the credit hour is cracked, dented, or remains intact, the dialogue around learning versus seat time is vital.”
I highly recommend the above report. It includes several pages of explanation on the development of Regents (now Excelsior) College and our work on serving adults who come to us with prior learning and a variety of college credits accumulated at several different colleges. It gives an excellent explanation of why some of our programs and our examinations do not qualify for federal financial aid. Competency-based programs are frequently considered independent study and are concerned with demonstrating outcomes and are frequently not based on “seat time.” Excelsior is cited as being one of the pioneers in assessment of prior learning and the use of competency-based models.
Whether the credit hour is cracked, dented, or remains intact, the dialogue around learning versus seat time is vital. More effective approaches to determining and evaluating competency-based learning hopefully will emerge from the study; the ensuing dialogue should benefit the higher education community and, most of all, our 21st-century learners.