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Competency-Based Education: No More Semesters?

“I went to a four-year university.” “That job requires a one-year certificate.” “It’s a two-semester course.” “She’s a fifth-year senior.”

What do these expressions have in common? They use time as the yardstick for higher education. Essentially, this means measuring not how much you’ve learned, but how long you’ve spent trying to learn it.

The conventions of the credit hour, the semester and the academic year were formalized in the early 1900s. Time forms the template for designing college programs, accrediting them and — crucially — funding them using federal student aid.