Untraditional students seek higher education because they hit a wall. Once they've committed themselves to obtaining a degree, however, they often hit another wall: the archaic "credit hour" rules enforced by the U.S. Education Department that demand extended time in classrooms and discourage self-study and flexible online offerings.
Amy Laitinen of the New America Foundation has written an important new critique of the system. She calls credit hours "an old, maddeningly irrational system" that condemns students to "spending large amounts of time and money in pursuit of degrees that don't always yield the value promised." She proposes that the Education Department consider alternative educational arrangements that award degrees based on learning outcomes rather than classroom time.
She examines a number of those alternatives. One is
One might fault Laitinen's report for yielding to the Education Department. It might be more fruitful to question whether one really needs a college degree to become a paralegal rather than make it easier to obtain an expensive degree in paralegal studies. Wouldn't working in a law office suffice? Still, it is encouraging that there is a movement to bypass the outmoded credit-hour system and to support the 86 percent of undergraduates who lack access to the traditional college experience.