Funded Research of The Credit Hour –

For more than a century, the Carnegie Unit, commonly recognized as the credit hour, has been the standard unit used for measuring a student’s academic progress in higher education. However, the effectiveness of this measurement has been questioned lately, specifically because the credit hour measures “seat time” and with the growth of online education, “seat time” doesn’t necessarily apply.

Recently, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, an independent research and policy organization based in California, received a $460,000 grant to help fund research on the Carnegie Unit and its past, present, and future role in American education.

“We plan to spend the next year exploring the Carnegie Unit in elementary and higher education today,” said Thomas Toch, senior managing partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. “We’ll identify promising efforts currently underway to create competency based metrics of student progress in higher education and K-12, and perhaps propose a new competency based Carnegie Unit.”

A changing education environment, which includes the increase of online degree opportunities, has led the foundation to consider a revised unit of measurement.

“The Carnegie Unit is nearly a century old and we reflected an education system that was very much place-based,” Toch said. “With the adding of particular technologies, students can now attend school anytime, anywhere and study just about anything that way. And it does seem to make sense to consider updating the Carnegie Unit, or the way we measure student progress, to take into consideration these new realities.”

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Toch added the foundation will also be looking closely at organizations and institutions that are already in the process of moving to competency based models, as well as a wide range of stakeholders in higher education and K-12.

“Any changes that will be made will have to be implemented by a wide range of institutions and organizations,” he said. “We want to make sure they are part of the conversation from the beginning.”

In the case that the Carnegie Unit is changed, Toch said there would be a great deal of discussion on how to implement changes.

“If, in fact, we do propose shifting to a competency based model, there would have to be significant discussions about assessments to measure student progress and the relationship between the role of a new Carnegie Unit in the federal student aid system in higher education, as well as other important discussions,” he said.

The culmination of the research process will include a report, which Toch said should be released in early 2014.

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