Southern New Hampshire University got word in April 2013 that the U.S. Department of Education was giving them the go-ahead to continue to pursue their competency-based education initiatives. With this approval, the college and university system in the United States could change completely.
The competency-based education program at Southern New Hampshire University, which is based out of Manchester, New Hampshire, allows students to earn credits based on what they know rather than the amount of time they have spent in a classroom during their college years. The average student in the United States earns a college degree by taking a certain number of credit hours during a two- or four-year period. In order to earn those credits, they must pass exams and complete projects to earn grades in the courses. These grades are recorded on transcripts, allowing students to prove to future employers or other higher education institutions that they did in fact earn a degree.
However, Southern New Hampshire University is taking a different approach. Instead of logging hours in a classroom, students are tested by the university about their knowledge and experience. If they can prove that they have the knowledge that is required for the degree, they are allowed to graduate and earn that degree. This can take the cost of a two-year degree down from $50,000 to $5,000, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader. Ultimately, the university is showcasing that this approach works better for the average student and also affords more students the opportunity to earn a college degree.
The announcement that the federal government supports this program is monumental, university president Paul Leblanc said to the New Hampshire Union Leader. Leblanc stated that it was the first time throughout modern history that the federal government has provided funding to support this type of academic path. It shows a commitment by the federal government to re-examine the educational system in the United States and to explore alternative learning paths in order to allow more students the opportunity to earn a college degree without getting into some serious debt.
Students today are paying more for college than ever before, and the prices continue to rise. State budgets continue to dwindle and the cost of running a university continues to go up, so students are bearing the brunt of the financial burden. Tuition rates continue to rise, and universities are looking to Southern New Hampshire University to see how this experiment pans out. The fact of the matter is, this New Hampshire university could be on the verge of a revolution. While the university has a long way to go in terms of developing the complete program and evaluating its success among students in the area, it is definitely a step in the right direction. The benefit is two-fold for students at colleges and universities, since they are able to work at their own pace to earn their desired degree while at the same time spending less money in the process.