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Eight community colleges in California launch new pilot program

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (NBC, KYMA/KECY) - The days of letter grades and in-person lectures may soon be over for some California college students.

Eight community colleges across the state are preparing to test out a new competency-based education program.

A revolution is coming to some California community colleges: No more grades, no more deadlines, and no more mandatory attendance.

In this new education model being piloted at eight campuses across the state, including Southwestern College in Chula Vista, the only thing students will be evaluated on is their competency.

"Competency-based education allows students to complete programs on their own time," said Randy Beach, Chairman for the Faculty Curriculum Committee.

Developing the program

The pilot program, which launched in 2021, is providing each participating campus with up to $500,000 over the course of four years to design their own associates degree program.

At Southwestern College, they're doing an auto tech degree, and Beach says they are already well on their way to developing the program.

"We're really designing something that's more intended for people that don't have time to sit in a classroom but are willing to put in the time to work online, distance education modules. That they are willing to do that and then come in from time to time to demonstrate what they can do."

Randy Beach, Chairman for the Faculty Cirriculum Committee

Currently, a student is required to take 14 semester-long classes for that same degree, adding up to at least two years in school.

But through hard work, dedication, or prior industry experience, Brian Palmiter, the Program Coordinator for the Automotive Department, says students can test out of the program and finish it in as little as six months.

"It's sort of like Netflix. You pay a fee and if you want to binge-watch on the weekends, if you want to binge-learn, you can do that," Palmiter shared.

Adapting general education requirements

The goal is to launch the program by next fall, but there is still a lot of work to make the new system happen.

"Staffing needs both in terms of faculty and student support are great. Again, that individualized nature of this program requires faculty to be available when the students need them rather than 9-to-5 Monday to Friday," Beach explained.

The college is always working to find a way to adapt general education requirements for an associate degree to this model, and designing a financial aid plan for students.

"It's definitely been a large project," Palmiter detailed.

But at least for now, they are confident they'll make it happen; innovating the education model for future programs and generations.

"Really excited to see how this is going to go," Palmiter added.

Associate degrees earned through the competency-based education program will be no different than traditional degrees, and will be transferrable to four-year colleges.

Article Topic Follows: California News

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