Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Independent Learning Article Links

Independent Learning Methods include reading, networking and hands-on learning.

Who are distance learners?

Tips for practicing foreign language vocabulary

Friday, July 22, 2011

Excelsior College—an Interesting Option for Accelerated or Nontraditional Education

Josh Kaufman’s articles on Hacking Higher Education are a good place to begin your quest for a college degree.  No, he does not mean hacking into a college computer and giving yourself a forged credential; he means using legitimate means to turn your work experience, personal reading, and non-accredited coursework into college credits.

One popular route to a degree is the CLEP test.  For example, you can get 6 credits in English Literature by taking two semester-long college courses (and paying the tuition) or by paying about $80 to take a CLEP test validating the fact that you were reading the Canterbury Tales in junior high and Tolkein in grade school.  Excelsior College offers a means of consolidating all your CLEP exams and taking whatever online courses you need to finish an accredited Associates or Bachelors degree.  They are friendly towards students who do not fit the four-year-college mold.  Excelsior also offers exams in many Excelsior College classes, accepts UExcel  and DANTES exams, and offers college credit for working students who have passed the Certified Pharmacy Technician exam, achieved industry credentials in computer networking, studied at the Defense Language Institute, and much more.

Before writing a fat tuition check, putting your career on hold, or taking out a huge student loan, spend an hour exploring the Excelsior website and reading Kaufman’s articles.  You may be closer to a college degree than you think!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why the Bias Against Acceleration?

I am puzzled about many “honors” programs in colleges.  Why are most programs designed around enrichment instead of acceleration?  The simplest path for the most advanced students is to accelerate by allowing them to skip over material they have already mastered, e.g. the general education core.  Instead, students are invited to participate in an honors program that adds more classes without offering the student the benefits of early graduation.  Some honors programs even extend the student’s time in school because time spent abroad does not necessarily fulfill all the college’s unyielding, one-size-fits-all core requirements.

Savvy students are smart enough to look at an honors program and realize it would mean more work simply to earn the right to wear a gold cord at graduation.  Is a gold cord more valuable than saving a year of student loan debt or beginning one’s career a semester ahead of schedule?

I have considered why so many educators are vehemently opposed to early graduation.  I have cynically concluded that the only reason not to accelerate honors students is to squeeze the maximum amount of tuition from them.  A year of savings for the student equals a year of lost revenue for the institution. 
Students should chart their own best course, doing what benefits them educationally and financially.  Institutions should not hold them back.
For suggestions on acceleration at the elementary and secondary level, see this article.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Accelerated Education is Sound Fiscal Policy

Legislators in North Carolina passed a $19.7 billion state budget that includes a 16 percent cut for the UNC system (Greensboro News & Record, July 7, 2011).  I wonder if anyone in the UNC system has considered that accelerated education could help them achieve this cost cut without jeopardizing four-year graduation rates.   Allow me to make my case.

The Costs of Egalitarianism in Education

While I firmly support equality of educational opportunities, that is quite different from the utopian egalitarianism that permeates today’s schools.  Requiring all students to sit through the same classes, regardless of ability or past achievements, is inefficient for the school and frustrating for students.  The price we pay for pretending all students are exactly the same is considerable.  In the name of general education, we pay to warehouse students in introductory classes even when those students have already mastered the material.  Teachers are being paid to teach students who have already been taught.  Why not free those classroom slots for students who truly need a class in English composition or western civilization?  Let the best prepared students prove their competency through CLEP tests, portfolios of research papers, or challenge tests based on the university general education classes.  These most competent students will use fewer state resources as they graduate on time (or even early) and the rest of the students will benefit from the additional classroom slots available to them at registration (enabling them to graduate on time.)

The Costs of Academic Snobbery

Strict course transfer policies and refusal to accept certain CLEP tests or other alternative forms of credit cause students to waste time and money repeating courses.  If a university is truly concerned about students going unprepared into upper-level courses, they can grant conditional credit for transfers or credit-by-exam.  For example, credit for English 101 will be granted for an AP English score of 3 or above, provided the student takes another English course and gets an A or B.  Such a policy would encourage the hesitant student to opt for repeating a class while the student who is confident of his preparation forges ahead and gains the credit for the lower-level course in the process.

The Multiplied Benefits of Early Graduation

Allowing the most capable or best prepared students to accelerate makes efficient use of scarce state resources.  If the state can graduate a student in three years, that frees resources for those who need extra help.  The net result could be more college graduates without more money spent.

Early graduates should graduate with less student loan debt.  Without crippling loan payments, such graduates can have money to use for retirement savings, raising families, or starting businesses. 

Budget cuts are never easy for anyone; who among us likes to cut back?  If handled wisely, however, North Carolina students could actually benefit from a more focused, more efficient university system.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Independent Learning

It seems fitting to begin this blog the week of Independence Day.  My passion is to promote learning without the artificial boundaries of a formal school setting.  I have experience with independent study courses, distance education, credit-by-exam, home schooling and accelerated education.  To read about my accelerated education experience, check out this link: How to Graduate from College in Three Years .

If you have questions about any aspect of independent learning, please leave a comment and I will see if I can help you.