Credit, Where Credit Is Due

Academic credits, more than 100 of which are generally required to earn a bachelor’s degree, don’t really mean so much. Or at least credits earned at one school don’t necessarily mean anything in comparison with other schools. The Department of Education is working to change that. According to a piece by Julie Margetta Morgan at the Center for American Progress, the department’s proposals aren’t very good:

Although most college graduates earn around 120 credits to get a bachelor’s degree, there is no way to know whether a credit earned at one college signals the same amount of learning as a credit earned at another.

The Department of Education is only now working to find a common understanding of the term “credit hour” after years of defining eligible postsecondary programs by the number of credits they offer. Its definition misses the mark by equating credit with time spent learning rather than with the learning outcomes.

The department has three proposals, all of which essentially equate college credit with hours spent in the classroom or working at home. None of them have anything to do with actual learning.

The department’s efforts to define credits come from a worry about how some colleges (ok, it’s those for-profits again) may be manipulating college credits to get more financial aid money.

As Morgan points out, the department’s new tactic is troublesome. Using credit hours in an effort to reform for-profits might fix a few abusive practices but it doesn’t offer substantive reform. It’s not the time spent trying to learn that matters; it’s what students actually learn.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer