Dr. Bushway Advocates for Students & Responsible Innovation in Higher Education

Rob Karwath for NWHSU | March 27, 2018

NWHSU’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Bushway, recently testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about competency-based education.

When Congress needed advice about crafting higher education policy, they sought the expertise of Deb Bushway, Northwestern Health Sciences University’s Provost and Chief Academic Officer.

Bushway recently testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about competency-based education, an approach to learning that focuses on competencies—knowledge, skills and abilities—that students must master rather than simply the amount of time they spend in class, often measured by credit hours.

Congress is considering changes in federal legislation to address how competency-based education is handled at colleges and universities that receive federal funding. Senators asked Bushway, who has built competency-based education programs and specialized in the subject for much of her career, to help them better understand the issue and draft sound policy.

“I don’t think the higher education system we have in place now is responsive to many of the needs of our diverse students,” Bushway said. “College students are diverse in many ways today—economic status, age, parenting status, field of interest and more. Clearly, too, employers have been telling us for a while that higher education is not meeting their needs.”

Enter competency-based education as one potential solution. The concept allows students to make progress toward degrees based on their demonstrated competencies in certain areas rather than solely based on a courses-and-credit-hours approach.

For example, students coming to college to complete degrees or obtain new ones could demonstrate competencies in certain areas as part of a program to achieve their goals. That could help them earn degrees quicker and for less tuition.

But deploying competency-based education correctly is vital. That’s why the senators sought Bushway’s advice.

“It’s clear that this is not the solution for everyone and everything, but it is part of the solution,” she said. “If we open up the floodgates too quickly without understanding the implications, we risk repeating mistakes. In the past, federal aid went to some unscrupulous players, and students ended up being harmed. We don’t want to repeat those mistakes. We’re talking about responsible innovation.”

The next step for Bushway and other experts is to help Congress develop language for legislation.

“They asked us to respond with ideas for workable solutions,” she said. “Longer-term, we’re talking about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and some revisions there. We’ll have counterproposals back and forth, along with opportunities for public comment.”

She added, “Our goal is to keep our voice in the mix and advocate for students as well as for responsible innovation in higher education.”

To read Bushway’s testimony to the Senate committee, please click here. To see a video of her presentation, please click here.