Northern Arizona University launched Personalized Learning in May
2013 and became the first public university in the nation to offer degrees based
on competency, not the credit hour.
The credit hour was devised more than a century ago to make the most of
the learning tools available at the time. Today, we have the technology to
break down barriers of distance, of income, and even of learning styles.
Competency-based education isn’t going to replace the traditional
university model, but it does fill a void.
More than 60% of college students today are working adults or otherwise outside
the 18-22 residential campus demographic. While it obviously still serves a
clear need, the traditional higher education model is not serving the majority
The truth is this: the traditional college education is not always the
right choice. Here are five circumstances when a traditional college degree doesn’t
Classes Bore/Terrify You
You’re past the age where college sports and a good dining hall are
priorities, and the thought of spending weeknights in a classroom is paramount
to reliving high school horrors. The traditional classroom experience is not
for everyone. That’s why many universities have begun to offer a range of
distance learning and online alternatives. I’m proud to say NAU is a leader in
More Than Enough Experience
Today, a college degree is a litmus test for entry- and mid-level
positions. While it never hurts to further your education, the return on
investment late in your career is often much lower for a bachelor’s degree. A
graduate degree, however, can boost your earning potential 22%, according to
the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Certifications can add relevant experience and expertise to your
credentials without the time and cost of a degree program. A psychology degree
won’t do you much good when applying for technology-related positions, many of
which ask for particular IT certifications. If you’re certain about your career
specialty, sometimes a specialized certificate is enough. Extension schools are
also an affordable option.
To Enter A Skilled Trade
Job growth for masons, electricians, plumbers, and other tradespeople is
outpacing the national average and income for these positions is comparable to
jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree. Trade school or a formal apprenticeship is
often the first step toward such a career.
Want To Learn
At NAU, hundreds of non-degree seeking students take classes simply for
the joy of learning. A rigid degree program gives you new knowledge and skills
but it doesn’t offer you the flexibility of following your interests. And
there’s a lot you can already do with a library card.
With Personalized Learning, NAU is working to create an education system
that works for everyone. It will take much time and effort but, in the long
run, will help to create a better educated, more productive, and more engaged
And that makes total sense.
A version of this article also appears on About.com
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