Bill Gates on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) and Online College Courses

Jeffrey Simons

By Jeffrey Simons

What does a college dropout like Bill Gates know about education? Quite a lot, it turns out. We talked about the efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve education on Bill’s birthday right here on the blog.

Today, we’d like to/ talk about Bill’s support of the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), one of the new assessments now available to StraighterLine students. (With the recent launch of the new StraighterLine, students have access to more than 30 credit-bearing tests and other assessments.)

Gates wrote on his blog, The Gates Notes, that “most people would agree that skills like critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing—the things the [CLA] test does measure—are pretty important.” The full blog entry can be found at 

Bill Gate’s comments are part of a bigger conversation about the skills gap, which is the difference between the skills many new job seekers possess compared to the skills required for the jobs that desperately need people to fill them. At a time when a growing number of Americans have been out of work for over a year and jobs are going unfilled, it is astonishing that college graduates are graduating without the skills they’ll need to get a job. Among other things, many new jobs are in healthcare or in the area known as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

According to a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the vast majority of employers feel colleges should be placing more emphasis on the essential learning outcomes that the CLA measures. Unfortunately, according to Gates on his blog:

“I’m reminded of a point made by Andrew Rosen of Kaplan, the for-profit education company, that colleges today know more about how many kids attend basketball games and which alumni give money than how many students showed up for economics class during the week, or which alumni are having a hard time meeting their career goals because of shortcomings in their education.That needs to change.”

In that same post, Bill talks about one of StraighterLine’s partner schools, Western Governors University (WGU):

“I’m also impressed by the results in places like Western Governors University. Its low-cost online programs rely on competency-based progression, not class-time or credit hours. It uses external assessments to evaluate student proficiency. And because its students are a little older and possibly more focused in their goals, its graduation rates are high and the salaries its graduates earn are good.”

What’s the common thread here?

The traditional way of doing things has led to a skills gap between job seekers and available jobs. Traditional colleges and universities are focused on the wrong things, and students are graduating unprepared for the jobs that are out there and buried under ever-increasing mountains of student loan debt.

But the new way of doing things – competency-based educaion, skills assessments like the CLA and the PLA (Prior Learning Assessment) and online college courses like those from StraighterLine and our partner schools – leads to a greater focus on and ability to train for the high tech jobs that are waiting for qualified applicants.

Bill Gates is throwing the considerable financial resources of his foundation behind the effort to revolutionize higher education. You can take advantage of that revolution for considerably less money: $89, in the case of the CLA.

The jobs are out there. You have the skills to get them. And now, you have a way to prove it.

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One thought on “Bill Gates on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) and Online College Courses”

  • Adrienne Keeler

    I have been doing research about the Collegiate Learning Assessment for a college report so it is nice to hear that Bill Gates supports it. I like the quote about people supporting the college sports but not education. It was a different way to think about this assessment.

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