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The Quiet Movement That Could End Higher Education as We Know it

The Quiet Movement That Could End Higher Education as We Know it
Photograph by Martin Barraud/Getty Images

With college costs under scrutiny, student loan debt spiraling out of control, state subsidies for public higher education diminishing, and unemployment still high, it’s no surprise that Americans are in search of alternatives to the four-year degree.

While much talk of alternatives has centered on MOOCs (massive open online courses), there’s been a quiet movement to train students in specific job skills, a model known as competency-based learning. Competencies measure how well a subject is mastered rather than how much time someone has spent in class. It promises to make higher education affordable to more people and to people from all backgrounds—82 percent of students who attend the top 468 colleges are white.