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Back Story: How NAU Got Financial Aid for Personalized Learning

by Kaitlyn Wightman
Marketing Specialist

February 24, 2014

A recent article making the rounds is misrepresenting Personalized Learning as not being a “direct assessment” program.

According to the article, Personalized Learning is not direct assessment because it is still mapped to the credit hour and graduates receive two transcripts: one showing gained competencies, the other credit hours earned.

OK, it is true that graduates will receive two transcripts.

But that doesn’t change how Personalized Learning students are assessed: By the direct application and demonstration of the knowledge they’ve gained through their studies. It has nothing to do with how long they were in class.

That, by definition, is direct assessment.

What All The Fuss Is Really About: FINANCIAL AID.

While Personalized Learning's design may invite some poetic waxing from other CBE programs, there is one clear distinction that the article totally missed.

The difference between NAU and all the other new competency-based programs out there is not that they’re direct assessment and we somehow aren’t … the real difference is that we offer financial aid.

And folks are a little sore about that financial aid issue. We get it.

(If you don’t feel like reading through that long paper, here’s the gist: A slew of schools are begging the government to waive its financial aid rules so they can experiment with competency-based models. They say their programs can’t succeed without financial aid. So far, crickets from Uncle Sam.)


Working Within The System

So, how are we the only public university in the nation able to offer financial aid for our competency-based degrees?  

This part is kind of complicated: It’s because our faculty and instructional designers were able to deconstruct traditional credit-hour classes, breaking each class down into a set of basic competencies that were then diced up into bite-sized online lessons.

As online lessons are completed—in any order and at any pace the student likes—the demonstrated competencies are then mapped back to their originating credit hour.

That’s how we’re able to provide two transcripts.

Our friends over at the Department of Education looked at our process closely and saw that Personalized Learning, despite using direct assessment, fit just fine into its current financial aid guidelines. Application approved. 

Since November, we’ve awarded more than $140,000 in federal financial aid to more than half of our Personalized Learning students—and that’s on top of it already being a remarkably affordable program

No matter how you define it, that’s a good thing.

Additional Story Info
For more information, contact:
NAU-Extended Campuses
1-(800)-426-8315
ec.marketing@nau.edu
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Degree Information
Online
In-Person
Blended
BA
120 units
Maximum Transfer Units
64
120
Additional Admission Requirements - Additional Application
Degree Information
Online
In-Person
Blended
BA
120 units
Maximum Transfer Units
64
120
Additional Admission Requirements - Additional Application