What Is Alternative (or “Non-Traditional”) Education?
Excerpted from the Introduction of `The Alternative
Guide to College Degrees & Non-Traditional Higher Education`
by John B. Bear, Ph.D. (Published by the Stonesong Press, a division
of Grosset & Dunlap, Inc., 1980).
A few years ago, if you lived in the United States
and wanted to earn a college degree - a bachelor, masters, or
doctorate - you really had only one alternative: Go to a campus,
take class after class, year after year, until you had completed
enough units for the degree. Normally this used to take four years
for a bachelor’s degree, one or two more for a master’s
degree, and two or three years beyond that for a doctorate. There
has truly been a revolution in higher education in America since
1970. In essence of this revolution can be summarized in a single
sentence: Today, instead of getting credit (and degrees) from
a physical, formal, traditional university, you can get credit
(and degrees) for what you learn on your own, in your own time,
The Comparative Argument of Alternative Education:
1. Traditional education awards degrees based on
the time served and the credits earned. Alternative education
awards degrees based on demonstrated competencies and skills.
2. Traditional education bases degrees requirements
on the medieval concept of some “liberal” education
and some specialized education. Alternative education bases degrees
requirements on an agreement between student and faculty designed
to help the student achieve his or her career and personal goals.
3. Traditional education considers the years from
eighteen to twenty-two as the optimum time for attending college.
Alternative education assumes that learning is desirable throughout
life, and degrees should be available at any age.
4. Traditional education views faculty as transmitters
of knowledge and information. Alternative education views faculty
as counselors who help students learn how to learn.
5. Traditional education aims at producing a well-educated
“finished product” ready to enter the job market or
graduate school. Alternative education aims at producing lifelong
learners, capable of change and responding through life to their
own evolving needs and those of society.
Comments by the Carnegie Commission on
Excerpted from a study funded by the Carnegie Commission
and conducted by the Educational Testing Institute.
Almost as many Americans seek some form of education
outside the established educational system as within it... There
is, then a very large group of people outside the formal structure
of education with obvious educational needs. If society is to
develop mechanisms to help meet these needs, an essential early
step is to analyze the populations reached by the non-formal systems...
A new set of terms and concepts is being developed, some of which
represent very old ideas and all of which, like other innovations,
will doubtless be carried to excess...
The Commission believes that the potential of these approaches
outweighs the possibility of excess. The rigidities of time, space,
and academic credentialing have worked directly to foster elitism
in higher education. The aims of education properly involve the
achievement of competence, understanding, knowledge, and sensitivity.
If attention is focused on diverse means to these objectives and
not on rigid structure, many people not now thought to be “college
material” can achieve these goals...
Non-traditional study is more an attitude than a
system and thus can never be defined except tangentially. This
attitude puts the student first and the institution second, concentrates
more on the formers need than the latter’s convenience,
encourages diversity of individual opportunity rather than uniform
prescription, and de-emphasizes time, space, and even course requirements
in favor of competence and, where applicable, performance. It
has concern for the learner of any age and circumstance, for the
degree aspirant as well as the person who finds sufficient reward
in enriching life through constant, periodic, or occasional study...
In sum, the Commission has come away from its study
of the proliferation and growth of alternate educational systems
and new techniques with a conviction that both are developments
to be welcomed rather than feared. Some alternate enterprises
have already shown themselves to be equal in quality to formal
educational offerings and occasionally better... Some technological
advances offer even greater promise for expanding clientele, offering
high-quality learning, and lowering costs per student. The Commission
believes that both the systems and forms deserve close attention,
encouragement and assistance...
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