Education First: Ohio Higher Education Report for 2016-2017, Part 4


What follows is the fourth section of the most recent higher education report produced by the Ohio Conference of AAUP. John McNay, the President of the Conference, and Sara Kilpatrick, the Executive Director of the Conference, deserves kudos for doing the bulk of the work on this report. The report has been distributed to all of the members of the Ohio legislature and the state’s major newspapers, several of whom have done follow-up investigative reporting on the topics covered in the report.

The previous Ohio Higher Ed Report was similarly published in sections to this blog. The links to those posts, as well as to the two posts in this series, are provided at the end of this post.



Rather than pursue a strategy that encourages reinvestment in public higher education, Ohio instead appears to be moving in a direction that could compromise educational quality and churn out degrees of less certain value to students and employers.

“Time to degree” has become a mantra that overcomes other measures of academic quality and success as more students with more credentials of any kind are sought. Less education has gradually become misunderstood as better education and is being driven by two flawed approaches.

(College Credit Plus was covered in the third post in this series.)

Competency-Based Education (CBE)

Another strategy focusing on production while avoiding education in a college classroom is the Competency-Based Education (CBE) scheme. For many years, CBE has been used appropriately in a handful of skills-based courses to prepare students for licensure exams and other credentialing in the health professions. They are altogether suitable in this arena.

However, advocates for this model have now begun pushing it into other areas of higher education where it is not suitable. It requires that standardized exams be agreed upon on a large scale, statewide at least, and perhaps beyond so that CBE becomes a generalized product with agreed upon standards. For a cost less than tuition, a student passing the exam can get credit and move on, perhaps to another standardized exam, and so forth.

Ultimately, the ideal of CBE advocates is to make the classroom, even the professor, unnecessary.

Among the many problems generated by this approach are:

1. A small group of people determine what the learning outcomes should be for exams. Take for example, courses on American History, the Civil Rights movement, or World War II. The process, the character, the struggles, the complexity of history would be smoothed over to allow for a standardized exam. One of the greatest benefits of history courses is learning to write persuasively – this kind of critical thinking cannot be extracted by a standardized exam. Is this how we want our students to learn? Can this truly be considered learning?

2. Students with means would avoid this process, would not be shortchanged, and would get the full college experience, which includes sitting in classes with people who are different from them and have had different life experiences. Those students forced through financial circumstances to take the CBE route to save money would not benefit from this experience and would not learn the discipline it takes to be a good student and have the experiences that will prepare them to succeed in an increasingly multicultural workplace and society. It would cause a further educational divide between those with greater means, and those with fewer means.

3. It will exacerbate the tendency to track students, the way other countries do, channeling some students into certain lines of work earlier and earlier to shorten time to degree and get them into the workforce. By pushing someone in the wrong direction too early, we risk losing them altogether.

While there is much talk about how this approach financially helps families because students graduate faster and thus accumulate less debt, there is little discussion about how less time in college affects the student’s education. Is less education really better? Will less education create the kinds of citizens and workforce that Ohio needs?

Discount versions of education, like surgery or car repairs, are no bargain. In such production-focused college curricula complex learning about history, literature, and politics is easily deemed wasteful. And so much for the profoundly energizing (and developmentally crucial) experience of encountering messy, uncertain arguments. Through tactics like CCP and CBE, the distance will grow between the student who can afford traditional university instruction and the one who needs to save money.

There are many ways to calculate success at our Ohio institutions. But, if the most basic goal of these gimmicks is to produce more graduates with a bachelor’s degree, there is no evidence that is occurring, as can be seen in the declining graduation rates in the following chart. This is not a ringing endorsement of the radical changes that have been imposed and continue to be contemplated in Ohio.

Statistics provided by ODHE, based on a six-year graduation rate: Data & Reports: Graduation & Retention Rates. Ohio Department of Higher Education.

 A better strategy to make college less expensive for the student would include enhancing the state’s 23 community colleges and 24 regional campuses where tuition is roughly half of what it is at university main campuses. Both CCP and CBE have hit two- year campuses harder than university main campuses because those introductory and core-curriculum courses are what they were established to offer.

Instead, the state’s actions have undermined the regional campuses. Several years ago, direct funding was taken away so that the campuses now have to compete for scarce instructional revenue with main campuses. The funding model fails to fund the regionals for succeeding at their mission of transferring students to the main campus to complete bachelor’s degrees. Yet, the financial model rightly funds community colleges for doing the same thing.

In conclusion, short-sighted strategies have been put in place to make up for the shortfall in funding; strategies that are right now doing damage to quality education in Ohio and promise to do more. We need to make certain that an obsession with production does not undermine the process of teaching and learning at our universities. With improved funding and a return to fundamentals, such as more fully utilizing community colleges and the university regional campuses as they were intended, there is a clear way to make progress toward more accessibility while also maintaining quality higher education in Ohio.


Previous Post in This Series:

2017 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 1:

2017 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 2:

2017 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 3:…2016-2017-part-3/.

Links to 2015 Ohio Higher Education Report

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 1:

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 2:

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 3:

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 4:

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 5:

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 6:


One thought on “Education First: Ohio Higher Education Report for 2016-2017, Part 4

  1. Pingback: Education First: Ohio Higher Education Report for 2016-2017, Part 6 | ACADEME BLOG

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