competencyworks higher education blog

What’s College Like for Students from Mastery-Based High Schools?

April 10, 2019 by

This is the fourth post in a series about the Mastery Collaborative in New York City. This post originally appeared on the Mastery Collaborative’s website on December 19, 2018.

Photos of four graduates of the Urban Assembly Maker Academy

Four college freshmen who are alums from UA Maker’s first graduating class of 2018 shared about their experience of college so far. From left: Richard attends NYC College of Technology; Jazlyn attends City College; Milam attends Dennison College; Ash attends Allegheny College.

Is mastery learning effective at preparing students for life beyond high school?

What happens when students from a mastery-based high school go to a traditional college?

Students, parents, and educators regularly ask these questions. Four alums from the first graduating class at Urban Assembly Maker Academy gave us their take on all this. They are all currently freshman at different colleges. Jazlyn and Richard are attending school in NYC. Ash attends a school in Pennsylvania, and Milam goes to college in Ohio. Here’s what they told us in a conversation over Thanksgiving break.

Understanding college work:

Ash: “We don’t get rubrics in college, but I have mental rubrics—I break it down in my head: This is what a 1 or a 5 would look like. I’m able to break down assignments into the pieces I need to get done. Having used mastery learning at UA Maker makes it a lot easier to determine what I want out of an assignment, and what the assignment entails—because we don’t get rubrics. A minus for me about attending a traditional college is that the first thing you turn in is the final. You don’t get to redo anything.

“In a mastery school it’s easy to know: This is what I’ve mastered, this is what I’m trying to get out of this assignment, because of rubrics. In college it’s: Get it done, get a good grade. I haven’t gotten anything important out of my (college) classes so far. With mastery classes, I got something out of it that I can use in day-to-day life. The things you’re learning don’t feel useless. (In college) you’re learning because (more…)

What’s New in Competency-Based Higher Ed?

November 2, 2018 by


  • Inside Higher Ed has published a new report that explores if colleges can partner with employers and brokers create alternative credentials that will help with careers.
  • Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario released a new report that explores the development of competency-based education in North America.
  • This article shares highlights from a new report that discusses five approaches for public institutions to implement for the future of education.
  • This article focuses on the rise of competency-based education in higher education.


Becoming an Effective Educator of English Learners: Job-Embedded, Competency-Based Professional Development for All Teachers

October 24, 2018 by

Ask any public-school teacher across the country about their greatest challenge. They are likely to tell you it is a lack of confidence in their own ability to work with students in their classes who may not speak English, sometimes representing vastly different cultures. The ExcEL Leadership Academy recognized the need for a better approach to professional learning that would prepare all teachers to work with English Learners. (more…)

The MTC Network: Reinventing How Students Prepare for College, Career, and Life

October 21, 2018 by

How do we prepare students for future careers we can’t even begin to imagine? This is a question we hear a lot in education today. Teachers most commonly tell us that they are seeking to educate students who think creatively and critically, take agency in their own learning, and solve problems by often challenging assumptions. They want to prepare them for our world of accelerating change. But, too often, they are confronted with the reality that the traditional transcript, established during the Industrial Age, limits their ability to best serve and represent the students in their care. Although educators serve diverse student populations—from rural to urban communities, from private to public schools—they find more similarities than differences in what effective teaching and learning look like. (more…)

Opportunities for Competency Education in the Reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Act

September 4, 2018 by

Carl D. Perkins

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on August 3, 2018. 

On July 23, Congress voted to pass a bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins Act) and on July 31, President Trump signed into law, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, providing states with the opportunity to advance competency-based pathways in career and technical education (CTE) programs. (more…)

Accreditation: What is the Department of Education Thinking?

July 30, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on July 18, 2018.

The Department of Education recently announced that it will be taking a fresh look at accreditation. Such a review is sorely needed: as Michael Horn and I argue in a new paper that was published originally as a chapter in the book Accreditation on the Edge: Challenging Quality Assurance in Higher Education, accreditation as it currently stands is a major obstacle to developing innovative programs that can improve access, affordability, and workforce alignment in higher education. (more…)

What’s Happening with Competency-Based Transcripts and Rethinking College Admissions in the United States

July 2, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on June 11, 2018.

What are competency-based transcripts, and why are they important?

The New England Secondary School Consortium (NESSC) explains the main issue: “For more than a century, American high school students have earned ‘credits’ for passing courses. When they accumulate enough credits, they receive a diploma. The problem with this approach is that credits do not always equal competency.”

Competency-based transcripts provide colleges and universities with comprehensive information on a high school student’s knowledge, skills and performance upon graduation. They communicate what a student knows and can do in the transition from secondary to postsecondary systems of education based on actual mastery and offer a comprehensive record of achievement in a competency-based learning model. (more…)

What’s New in Competency-Based Higher Education?

June 25, 2018 by


New Resource

  • The Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown recently released Educational Adequacy in the Twenty-First Century “that seeks to define a new outcomes-based earnings standard for all postsecondary education programs. After closely examining the value and cost of college programs, we determined a standard that would allow graduates to attain middle class earnings and recoup their education costs. [The] proposal: within 10 years following graduation, students must attain earnings greater than $35,000 annually above their cost of education.”

Stealing a Page from Disruption to Transform Accreditation

June 21, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on June 15, 2018.

One of the only things Republicans and Democrats in Washington, DC can agree on is that they don’t like the accreditation system in higher education.

The “watchdogs that don’t bark,” as former Education Secretary Arne Duncan famously termed them, just don’t seem to be doing a great job holding institutions responsible for their student outcomes, as a Wall Street Journal investigation showed. (more…)

National Survey of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education

June 12, 2018 by

AIR and Eduventures® Research announced that the National Survey of Postsecondary CBE has launched. From their press release:
Many in the CBE community (and beyond!) have provided helpful input into this survey, which seeks to understand the scale and scope of postsecondary CBE at institutions like yours – and, for those institutions who completed Eduventures’ 2016 survey, how implementation has changed over time. We ask that your institutions take a few minutes to complete the survey, which will help answer questions for the field like:

  • How many programs exist, and in what disciplines/areas;
  • How institutions are implementing CBE;
  • How many students are enrolled or have completed; and
  • Perceptions about facilitators and barriers to adoption.

How you can contribute: Academic leaders at your institution will be receiving a personalized link to the survey early this afternoon. If you received it, please take the time to complete it (or forward on to the appropriate person). If you did not receive it and would like to know who received the invitation on behalf of your institution so that you can encourage them to complete it or forward it on, please let us know using let us know using this short web form.

Thank you to the many members of this list who provided ideas and guidance for this survey! We look forward to sharing results with you beginning at CBExchange in September. Future versions of this survey will be conducted annually through 2020 to track the evolution of the field.

If you have questions, please contact us. To learn more about AIR’s work in CBE, click here.

This study is funded by Lumina Foundation, supporting AIR’s work, and Ellucian, which supports Eduventures’ contributions.

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