H.R. 3136 passed by the House Education & the Workforce Committee

July 10, 2014

Today H.R. 3136, the Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act, was advanced by the Education & the Workforce Committee, along with two other bipartisan bills to reform the nation’s higher education system. Please see the committee’s news release on today’s decision here.

Capella is very encouraged by the passage of this bipartisan legislation. The cost of obtaining a degree has risen dramatically over the last decade. To help counter these rising costs and provide a less costly, more effective route to earning a degree, Capella and other like-minded institutions are leading the field in the development of new models of education that can measure students’ actual learning rather than seat time. Models like FlexPath, which utilizes direct assessment, frees our competency-based degree offerings from the credit hour by decoupling student learning from time. As many of you know, the credit hour is the current foundation of higher education. It measures degree progress and it is the basis for our financial aid system. Because the credit hour is time-based, it has enabled measurements such as “seat time” which measures the amount of time someone is to spend sitting in a classroom.  Direct assessment measures student knowledge and learning, rather than seat time and grades. What matters is knowledge gained, not the amount of time it took to gain it. This decoupling is powerful but poses complicated problems for federal financial aid laws and regulations.  H.R. 3136 creates a much needed demonstration project on competency-based education and direct assessment to address these legislative and regulatory barriers in a way that will strengthen these models and maintain safeguards for students.

Competency-based education broadly, and direct assessment programs specifically, hold enormous potential to dramatically increase flexibility for students; significantly reduce the cost of a degree; speed time to degree completion; and increase access for a wide variety of students that are not currently served by today’s higher educational model.

With the successful passage of H.R. 3136, there will be constructive opportunities for institutions to navigate and resolve the legislative and regulatory complexities around this new delivery model resulting in lower cost, shortened time to completion, a better understanding of how best to support the direct assessment student, how to successfully build a scalable model and how to continually improve learning outcomes.

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NASFAA Conference Recap

July 7, 2014

Today’s guest post is from Capella’s Director of Public & Federal Aid Policy, Jillian Klein.

Last week I joined over 2,000 financial aid administrators in Nashville for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) conference. This annual conference is an opportunity for the financial aid community, NASFAA staff and the Department of Education to come together to share important updates, training and best practices in the industry. Justin Draeger, NASFAA’s president, opened the week by reminding attendees that the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators is “big enough for everyone, regardless of sector,” and the week of sessions and panels touched on emerging trends, opportunities and proposed changes that touch all areas of higher education.

The hottest topic of the week, of course, was the pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The conference couldn’t have come at a better time, on the heels of several Higher Education Act bills that have been released over the past few weeks. In general, financial aid administrators are most concerned about a finalized reauthorization bill that includes a simplification of the federal financial aid application process (FAFSA), streamlined repayment options for student borrowers, stable and secure funding streams for the Title IV program, and the removal of administrative burdens that complicate financial aid processes.

More than ever before, financial aid administrators are also asking for a federal funding system that works for the contemporary student. The days of first-time, full-time students making up the majority are long gone, and federal financial aid funding needs to enable flexibility, support innovative models (like Capella’s FlexPath program), and ensure that funding is available for students who are on an accelerated path, as well as for those students attending college part-time while juggling family and career obligations.

Thrilled to meet Capella graduate Michelle Walker at NASFAA 2014!

Thrilled to meet Capella graduate Michelle Walker at NASFAA 2014!

It was wonderful to spend the week in Nashville with so many higher education professionals who are really devoted to making sure students succeed and that the federal financial aid program supports all students as they move through their programs. I’m already looking forward to next year’s NASFAA conference in New Orleans!

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President Scott Kinney to participate in Aspen Ideas Festival

June 26, 2014


Capella University president Scott Kinney will be traveling to Aspen, Colorado to participate in the Aspen Ideas Festival next week. The Aspen Ideas Festival is the nation’s “premier, public gathering place for leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues that affect our lives.” There are 350 presenters, 200 sessions and 3000 attendees at the annual event. It’s an honor to have Scott be invited to represent Capella at such a dynamic event.

Scott will be participating in two panels. On July 1st, he will engage in a discussion called “Who Is College for, Anymore? The Future of Public Education.” The panel will explore how the rapid changes in higher education and society are likely to change college and university education. Sitting on the panel with Scott is Carrie Besnette Hauser, President and CEO of Colorado Mountain College; Scott Ralls, the Chancellor of the North Carolina Community College system; and Anthony Carnevale, the Director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

On July 2nd, Scott will participate in a conversation on “The College Presidency in the 21st Century.” Led by Doug Lederman of Inside Higher Ed, this panel will examine the role of the college president today. As the presidency enters a period of significant turnover, there is an opportunity to re-envision the position and what it entails. The panel will discuss the role of college presidents when it comes to fundraising, improving student success, promoting social mobility and in serving as national and local civic leaders. Joining Scott on the panel is Carol Quillen, president of Davidson College and Scott Ralls, the Chancellor of the North Carolina Community College system.

It isn’t clear if the panels will be live streamed, but please visit the website for more information. Scott will be giving us a recap on the Aspen Ideas Festival when he gets back late next week. Follow him on Twitter at @CapellaU_Pres and the hashtag #AspenIdeas for live updates.

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The backbone of the American higher education system

June 17, 2014

Jeffrey Selingo wrote a compelling piece in the Chronicle yesterday on the role of the bachelor’s degree. This article brought up a very central and timely question in higher education – how can we better serve today’s students and their needs through their college education?

It’s an important issue. In the past, a college education wasn’t required in order to advance financially, and a degree was mainly used to get a broad general education. The job-training aspect was intended to come later, in professional schools or from an employer itself. Today, owners of bachelor’s degrees have many expectations of what it should provide. It is expected that a bachelor’s degree should help students mature, train them to have critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and most importantly, “prepare graduates to step immediately into high-skills employment.”

How can we help all of today’s students get what they want out of their degrees? We know that college students today are extremely diverse. They come from all different ages and backgrounds. Jeff puts it plainly, “Those students deserve a new bachelor’s degree that better meets both their varied needs and aspirations and the requirements of today’s economy. It’s time to rethink the purpose of the degree and offer more flexibility as to when, where, and how students acquire it.”

There are exciting developments taking place in higher education today. With initiatives such as competency-based curriculum and self-paced options for earning a degree, today’s learners are given more options that fit their life and their expectations. However, we need to keep this momentum moving forward. Until the majority of business leaders say college graduates are ready for their jobs, until all college graduates say their degree helped move them forward in their career, until more people are able to have the opportunity to earn a degree, our work is not done.

Jeff’s article in the Chronicle is located here.

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Gallup-Purdue Index

May 7, 2014

Yesterday Gallup, Purdue University and Lumina Foundation released the results of their joint-research effort on the long-term success of graduates as they embark on their life after school. This index provides insight into the relationship between the college experience and whether college graduates have fulfilling lives.

This study comes at a crucial time – there has been increased awareness lately around the purpose of higher education institutions and holding them accountable for this purpose.

There were several compelling findings from the study. I encourage reading it in its entirety, or Gallup’s thorough summary (links below). One central conclusion found was that the type of schools college graduates attend hardly matter at all to their workplace engagement and current well-being. Instead, the study found that “support and experiences in college have more of a relationship to long-term outcomes for these college graduates.”

One disheartening statistic is that only 11% of college graduates are thriving – strong, consistent and progressing – in all five elements of well-being (purpose, social, financial, community and physical.)

Do you think this study will impact how higher education institutions interact with their students? How? Do you think it will affect how future college students pick which school to attend?

The whole study is available here, and Gallup’s synopsis of the study is located here. Please let me know any thoughts you might have on it in the comments section below.

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