July 24, 2014
The Arizona Republic
Joanna Allhands

We love to talk about how useless Congress is. And on a lot of issues -- cough! immigration! -- it is.

But the House unanimously passed a bill on Wednesday that could change how we award bachelor's degrees.

I know. You heard nothing about it.

But it has big implications for Arizona.

We approach college a lot like primary school: You advance, in part, based on the time you spend in a desk. For most students, there's no skipping ahead based on what you know. You sit in class for the requisite credit hours, and assuming you get passing grades to match, you move on.

Competency-based educations programs change that. They give you credit for what you already know. No need to sit through pointless classes (I seriously had to take a one-credit library skills class in college) just to fill a requirement if you already are proficient in that area.

That can speed the time it takes (and, presumably, lower the cost) to get a degree. And that is a big deal for Arizona, which has set aggressive goals to award more degrees.

And when that shakeup comes, Arizona schools will be far better positioned than their peers to make the most of it. Arizona State University and others have been working on competency-based programs for several years. They'll be strong candidates to take part in the Salmon-sponsored pilot.

Pretty cool news for higher education here. 

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