House passes education reform bill

The House on Wednesday passed legislation to authorize a pilot program to give academic institutions more flexibility in carrying out competency-based programs.

Passed 414-0, the measure sponsored by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) would direct the Secretary of Education to select up to 20 institutions of higher education to implement competency-based education demonstration projects.

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The bill would require annual evaluations of each competency-based demonstration project to determine the progress of students earning degrees and program quality.

Education institutions have long used credit hours, or the amount of time spent in the classroom, to award degrees and student aid.

But Salmon said the current model is outdated and didn't truly measure student learning.

"Federal regulations continue to greatly impede efforts to reduce the costs of a degree," Salmon said. 

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said measuring learning on actual skills learned would modernize the American education system.

"This model is an opportunity for American students to access high quality education in a new way," Miller said.

The Obama administration said that it supports passage of the bill.

"This legislation would build on the work announced by the President last August to promote better innovation and competition in our higher education system, and help ensure that more Americans have access to high-quality, flexible higher education opportunities that meet their needs, particularly for adult learners who may be struggling to manage work and family responsibilities along with their educational pursuits," the White House said in a statement of administration policy.

Before final passage, the House gave voice vote approval to an amendment that would require applicants to provide information on their populations of veterans and students in the military. It would further require the applicants to explain how they would incorporate that population's needs for the competency-based demonstration project.

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