SHSU President’s roundtable discusses a lack of competency education

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Members of the Sam Houston State University faculty and administration gathered to address the merits and critiques of competency-based education Wednesday.

The President and Provost Roundtable discussion took place in the Lowman Student Center. During the session, concerns and questions about this alternative method to university education were directed to University President Dana Gibson, Ph.D., and Provost Jamie Hebert, Ph.D.

Competencies are basic skills and understanding a student must have to advance in his or her degree program. Competency-based education is a method of directly testing students to demonstrate they have mastered subject matter, whether they have learned it in classroom or in the real world.

This would allow students to test out of certain courses based upon mastered skills gained in the real world.

For example, if a student had mastered Photoshop on his or her own time or in a course in high school, taking a competency assessment would offer the student a chance to test out of a course they have already exceeded in skill level. This would allow the student to focus on the skills that have not been mastered.

Many concerns were voiced about a possible transition to a competency-based education system. One of the most prominent concerns was the idea of a minimal requirement becoming a standard in education.

One benefit of the competency system, Gibson said, is the flexibility of courses and the manner in which they are taken. Competency-based education is not based upon credit hours but instead the units of competencies within each course or degree program.

“If you look at one outline from a couple of universities that are working on [the competency system] now, they are breaking apart their 12 semester credit hours into what are all of the competencies in the 12 hours and, making it so that students can take them whenever and wherever,” Gibson said.

A large number of faculty members found that the idea of competency-based education threatened the quality of education the average student would receive as well as the experience of actually attending college.

Another concern was that of SHSU becoming a diploma mill and giving degrees to students who never had to take a course at SHSU or any college.

“My personal stance that does not represent that of the university is that competency-based education is nothing new,” Dean Mitchell Meuhler of the College of Business said. “It is something that has existed for many generations and is evolving, and I think the driver for the evolution is that we have a greater demand for an educated workforce. The question is if there is any way to equate their lifetime of learnings toward a baccalaureate degree, not for a baccalaureate degree.”