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online courses to cut costs without sacrificing learning outcomes. And because the OLI's materials are freely available online, anyone-professors, administrators, or individual students-can use them. Now running the OLI at Stanford, Thille continues to explore how to make online education more adaptive to individual learners. This fall, she will collaborate on a project at Georgia State to test the effectiveness of "mind-set interventions," developed with Stanford colleagues Carol Dweck and Geoff Cohen. Working with Ryan Baker at Columbia Teachers College, they are building "affect detectors" into the OLI stats course to determine when students should receive the interventions. Translation: if a student's performance indicates that her morale is flagging, the course will deliver her a psychological boost. (Research shows that low self-esteem is a major roadblock for disadvantaged students.) Thille is excited about the use of techCandace Thille nology to create personalized and adaptive learning systems, but she's worried about the design of these systems being outsourced to for-profit companies whose proprietary software isn't transparent or peer reviewed. Thille-who spent eighteen years in the private sector before beginning her academic career-emphasizes that in a university context, researchers, educators, and students are all in the same environment, providing a feedback loop that's ideal for innovation and improvement. "As institutions of higher education," Thille says, "we are in a very privileged position." Courtesy of Stanford University Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning; Courtesy of New America AMY LAITINEN New America Think of a "typical" college student and what probably comes to mind is an eighteen-year-old freshman living in a dorm. In fact, nearly half of all college students today are adults, most of them studying part-time while juggling work and family responsibilities. In 2011, Amy Laitinen, a former Obama administration education policy adviser then working at a D.C. think tank, was trying to figure out how to get the higher education system to do a better job of meeting the needs of these adult learners. Only a handful of schools at the time were doing so. Excelsior College in New York, for instance, has long built its curriculum around competency-based education. Instead of giving students college credit based on "seat time" in class-the credit hours we all earned in college-students in CBE move at their own pace, typically in online classes, and advance by showing mastery of specific knowledge and skills ("competencies") on exams designed by subject-matter experts. In addition, students who have already garnered considerable knowledge on the job can convert that knowledge into college credit by taking exams and building portfolios of their prior work that are judged by outside experts-"prior learning assessments" is the term of art. Via CBE and PLA, Excelsior and a few schools like it have shown that it is possible to provide quality degrees to adults at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional degrees. Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, students can't get federal financial aid for CBE courses. That's because federal aid is tied, by statute, to the old credit hour system. There is good reason for this policy: it helps keep unscrupulous diploma mills, where students rarely, if ever, have a chance to interact with professors, away from federal aid dollars. The problem is that it also keeps great programs, like Excelsior's, out of the federal aid system (and out of the running for our Best Colleges for Adult Learners rankings, which are based on federal aid data-see the introduction to those rankings on page 23). That, in turn, means that very few other schools have followed Excelsior's lead and developed innovative programs to serve adult students. While researching this problem in 2011, Laitinen noticed an obscure provision in a 2006 statute allowing for something called "direct assessment." Lawmakers had added the provision so a politically plugged-in college, Western Governors University, could access federal aid for its competency-based curriculum. Amy Laitinen WGU ultimately decided to build its CBE curriculum around the credit hour, so it had never taken advantage of the loophole. But other colleges could, Laitinen reasoned. Indeed, as she later told the Chronicle of Higher Education, direct assessment represents "an entirely different way of awarding federal financial aid." Laitinen wrote up her discovery in a widely read report for New America and spread the word among her extensive-and at first skeptical-contacts in the federal government and the wider higher ed sector. Discussions she convened between federal regulators and college administrators convinced both sides that the loophole does indeed apply broadly. Since then, a handful of colleges, including Brandman University (see Laurie Dodge profile above), have created CBE-based curricula and are receiving federal financial aid. Hundreds more are looking into doing some form of CBE. TRISTAN DENLEY Tennessee Board of Regents Tennessee has become a national leader in improving remediation (also known as developmental education- non-credit-bearing courses for students deemed academiWashington Monthly 63

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