Coronavirus pandemic continues to change higher education

Written by Christine Cooke

April 2, 2020

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Snow College President Brad Cook announced the early launch of Snow Online – an innovative program that gives credit for a range of prior learning experiences through a self-directed, fully competency-based, online associate degree.

“In this time of uncertainty and change, we are excited to provide students access to our top-ranked college from anywhere in the world through a high-quality, online, competency-based associate degree,” said Cook. “Snow Online has been in development for some time now. The current health situation has simply accelerated the development and launch.”

A couple weeks ago, I explored the question of what coronavirus will mean for the future of public education – both K-12 and higher education. As we know, in-person higher education courses have moved fully online for now. But part of that article was the following comment: “Even short-term adjustments can have long-term ripple effects.” 

We are seeing those ripple effects.

Certainly the expedited launch of Snow Online is one of those, but the launch has its own set of effects as well. During this window of change in higher education – primarily the expansion of online coursework – Snow Online is also normalizing other innovative changes like generously offering credit for prior learning and catering to the atypical student.

Because Snow Online is a fully competency-based program – meaning you move through content as quickly or slowly as you can demonstrate competency – it offers college credit for a broad range of “prior learning.”

Prior learning is generally understood as learning gained outside the traditional classroom. This is different, for example, from transferring credits from another institution or even Advanced Placement test scores earned in high school. Through a prior learning assessment, Snow College Online students can earn college credit for skills gained in military service, past college credit, industry certifications, language skills, work experience, ACT or SAT scores (not as entrance exams but as demonstrated competencies), bootcamps, world travel and more. 

An institution focused on prior learning has as its default an eye toward finding competencies and awarding employable credentials rather than ensuring students follow a specific path toward a degree or certification.

While technically anyone regardless of age or grade is eligible for the program (so long as they are ready for the coursework), Snow Online is aimed at those who are sometimes considered atypical college students. This includes high school students or homeschoolers who want to begin college early, working adults with various skills and experience but no formal college degree, and military personnel.

Snow Online is also an inexpensive option for the traditional college-age students who want to begin postsecondary school but don’t want to go into steep debt while they figure out their path. Especially for students who were planning to jump into college this summer but are unsure how the pandemic may affect summer semesters or beyond, this program offers another fully online option that is not as easily disrupted by outside events.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the launch of Snow Online. And perhaps Snow Online will accelerate greater flexibility in learning at other institutions across the country. As when a forest fire creates a situation in which the seeds and hope for new growth can flourish, the current pandemic may be creating a situation in which the seeds and hope for a renewal of public education can sprout and grow – to the benefit of students nationwide.

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