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Northern Arizona Wins Regional Accreditor’s Approval for Personalized Learning Program

It’s all systems go, at last: Northern Arizona University, one of the ten institutions presently developing breakthrough degree programs with NGLC support, recently got the green light to start enrolling students in their Personalized Learning program. The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (HLC), NAU’s regional accreditor, approved their application to offer a competency-based degree program that moves away from the credit hour standard to use an approach referred to as “direct assessment” instead. In this approach, students receive credit related not to their presence in a real or virtual classroom for a specified period of time but instead to their successful completion of assessments that show they have mastered clearly defined competencies or are able to perform specific, predetermined tasks. HLC has created a pilot group of four institutions now approved to offer a competency-based degree program: NAU, the University of Wisconsin Colleges (a system of two-year campuses), the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and Capella University.

In the university’s press release, the institution’s president, John Haeger, characterized NAU as “the first public university to launch this kind of competency-based program.” Personalized Learning offers students accredited, competency-based online bachelor’s degrees at the affordable flat rate of $2,500 for six months of study, or $5,000 for a full year. Personalized Learning students advance toward their degrees by demonstrating mastery of the skills (or competencies) for a particular course, regardless of how long it takes. Students demonstrate competency with pre- and post- lesson assessments; they must achieve at least 86 percent proficiency in order to advance. Initial degrees in the program include Computer Information Technology, Liberal Arts, and Small Business Administration. Recruitment of students is under way.

HLC’s approval of the pilot group to offer competency-based degree programs in their region follows hard on the heels of Southern New Hampshire University’s success in winning Department of Education approval to offer financial aid for their competency-based program, College for America. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, NEASC, which is SNHU’s accreditor, gave SNHU the go-ahead to offer the program in September, and earlier this spring the DOE approved them to provide financial aid to students in the program.

For a more detailed look at this groundbreaking feature of several of the NGLC breakthrough models, see our February post on competency approaches. For more information on NAU’s Personalized Learning program, see the program website.



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