Jim Clark: Is western NV ready for College for America system? | SierraSun.com

Jim Clark: Is western NV ready for College for America system?

Jim Clark

Perhaps the most logical letter to the editor published in the Reno Gazette-Journal regarding the proposed business margins tax on the November ballot appeared last week.

It briefly cited arguments made by both proponents and opponents and then asked, “Before you even get into those arguments we still don’t have the answer to the most fundamental question: where are the independent, peer-reviewed studies that show throwing money at education improves student achievement?”

Great question.

The fact is that there is currently no way to assess the efficiency with which school districts or universities spend the funds allocated to them by government agencies and students who pay to use their services.

Both K-12 and higher education are almost universally set up based on “seat time,” the amount of time students spend in class with so many semesters or quarters required for graduation.

Currently, several top-tier universities are experimenting with Internet delivery of lectures, but for the most part residency and classroom attendance is required for academic credit.

At the K-12 level, some innovative charter schools in Nevada and other states are run as distance learning institutions where students study on the Internet and receive academic credit.

In such cases, it is possible for a student to learn at his/her own pace and advance based on performance, irrespective of measured time spent at studies.

A case in point is Incline’s eLearning Café, where students enroll in courses for academic credit and, with the help of one-on-one tutors, master course subject matter at a rate within their comfort level and then advance the next curriculum. This is a huge step toward efficient utilization of learning resources.

In higher education, the first move to attain efficiency and cost reductions began only last year at Southern New Hampshire University. In response to political leaders’ (including President Obama) pleas to reduce education costs, SNHU came up with a formula to redesign the college model and structure it around the needs of students.

The institution formed College for America (CfA), a self-paced, online curriculum based on mastery of practical, work-related skills and knowledge created by academics based on input from employers.

Students advance by showing mastery of projects scored by expert graders. Academic subjects currently offered include communication skills; critical and creative thinking; digital fluency; quantitative skills; personal effectiveness, ethics and social responsibility; teamwork and collaboration; business essentials; and science, society and culture.

Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, CfA awards associate and bachelor degrees.

The CfA model hinges on the assumption that students can and will take control of their own learning. Augmenting student endeavors CfA maintains a multi-layered student support system.

They can interact with peers through social media and virtual networks; a CfA coach helps hold them accountable to their academic plan and each student identifies a “learning partner” employer from his/her community so that whether or not currently employed by that “learning partner” the student will be mastering tasks for which there is immediate demand in the job market.

The cost of a CfA bachelor’s degree — $10,000. Yep, $2,500 per year. Even if a student has to borrow it all, he/she is left with a manageable student loan and high prospects of a job on graduation with which to pay it.

With Nevada’s tech savviness now buoyed by the firm commitment of Tesla to build its lithium battery manufacturing gigafactory near Reno/Sparks, is this an opportune time to look at a western state campus of CfA?

Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates and has served on the Nevada and Washoe County Republican Central Committees. He can be reached at tahoesbjc@aol.com.