“Affordable access to accredited higher education is key to our state's future and essential to bringing more highly skilled jobs to North Carolina,” Forest said.
The main distinction between WGU and more traditional universities is its use of the competency-based approach to education, or CBE. The UNC-system recently launched four CBE programs at various universities. WGU North Carolina currently has about 1,100 students enrolled.
Michelle Solér, the UNC-system director of competency-based education, said students must demonstrate proficiency in certain competencies deemed necessary for their degree.
Competencies are similar to student learning objectives that would be lined out in a syllabus for a traditional class, she said.
Solér said there is no official institutional calendar in most CBE programs. Students pay for an enrollment period, usually six months, which can begin at any time and where they accomplish as many competencies as they want.
A student will not receive credit for a competency unless they have made a B or higher on the exam.
“This is largely geared toward people who have dropped out of school,” Solér said.
Eric Houck, a professor in the UNC School of Education, said this approach can be useful in very specific, technical settings where all educators can agree on what the core knowledge should be.
Houck said these conditions are not present in many university classrooms that cover broader topics. He said he is worried that relying on a list of accomplishments will prevent teachers from continuing to innovate their classrooms.
“In the teaching field, where a lot is still unknown, competency-based education has a real danger to just reinforce the status quo rather than allowing for exploration of new ideas in education,” he said.
Houck said the partnership between WGU and North Carolina runs counter to the message the General Assembly has been giving educators for the past few years.
“I think teachers are going to use whatever happens in their classroom to check off the competencies without thinking about how to do things in ways that really improve student achievement,” he said.
Because WGU is a private, non-profit university, the school is not required to release statistics like public universities, Truitt said. She said CBE prepares students for the workforce and that the school exceeds the national average across different measures, such as employer satisfaction.