competencyworks higher education blog

What’s New in Competency-Based Higher Education?

April 4, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicThe Future of Higher Education

  • Michael Horn joined EdNext Editor-in-chief Marty West to discuss micro-credentials for teachers, and how professional development is changing in this EdNext podcast.
  • Brian Peddle offers commentary on the college transcript of the future—and the processes holding it back.
  • The 2017 New Media Consortium Higher Education Report identifies trends and technologies that will impact the future of higher education. Competency education is noted within as an innovative idea reshaping the higher education experience.

New Competency-Based Programs

  • University of Maine at Presque Isle is implementing a proficiency-based approach, where freshmen use an educational ‘roadmap’ to show their proficiency in over 100 learning outcomes by graduation.
  • The American Public University System, with enrollment at 90,000, now offers four competency-based undergraduate degrees that require students to master at least 60 competency-based modules for completion – eliminating the credit hour standard. Read more from Education Dive.
  • Southern New Hampshire University will offer competency-based programs (health-care management, communications, general studies, and management) to federal employees through College of America—allowing them to develop skills immediately applicable in the workplace.


In Wisconsin, Innovation Does What Budgets Can’t

March 28, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on March 23, 2017.

It’s budget season in Wisconsin. As in recent years, there is much discussion around tuition rates, state support and maintaining the University of Wisconsin as one of the nation’s premier research universities. But under the radar, the UW System has quietly been innovating against the affordability and workforce challenges faced by the state through a program called UW Flex.

Wisconsin is experiencing a shift from what has historically been heavy employment in manufacturing to jobs that require far more education. But, like many state universities, the UW System has also seen a long-term decline in state appropriations, and tuition has risen in order to pick up the slack in the budget.

Wisconsin faces a challenge: How can the state skill up quickly to meet demand for the new jobs in today’s economy? How can innovation create a college education that is lower cost and accessible, not just to high school seniors, but to working adults who need to retrain?

In order to meet the demands of the 21st-century economy, a team at UW began to experiment with developing a competency-based program. In competency-based education, learning is fixed and time is variable, meaning that students can spend as much time as it takes to demonstrate proficiency and mastery of each competency–and cannot move on until they do. This stands in contrast to a traditional program, in which time is fixed (a semester, for instance), and learning is variable.

Perhaps most importantly for UW leaders, competency-based education can also be designed to align to workforce needs by matching learning competencies to work-based skills and dispositions. Because of their flexibility, these programs can attract students who are older and already working, which allows Wisconsin to help retrain workers displaced by the shift away from manufacturing. (more…)

College Transformed: Five Institutions Leading the Charge in Innovation

March 21, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on February 22, 2017.


Higher education leaders today confront a bevy of criticisms ranging from worsening affordability and persistent socioeconomic disparities to a lack of relevance in the ever-changing economy. Institutions are beset by internal challenges and external pressures. Business models are cracking under enormous pressure as state appropriations decline and net tuition growth wanes. Business as usual simply can’t continue.

The nature of competition in higher education is changing—presenting both challenges and opportunities. For decades—centuries, even—higher education has been on a continuous trajectory of developing more complex and comprehensive institutions to build and disseminate knowledge and educate students. But technology is enabling a new, disruptive path: simpler, more affordable, more accessible educational experiences, built in alignment to the needs of the workforce. Leaders can look to examples of institutions that are successfully innovating in the new environment, some along this new disruptive path, and others by incorporating disruptive technologies to move forward along the traditional trajectory:

  • Arizona State University: Its open-access Global Freshman Academy creates a new pathway into the institution, and an innovative business model allows students to pay when they successfully complete courses.
  • Northeastern University: Drawing on its expertise in experiential learning, it established a coding and analytics bootcamp that defines success by student outcomes in the workforce.
  • University of Wisconsin: In order to address workforce challenges in the state, it deploys a competency-based degree program that draws on the academic resources of the UW System to develop new, accessible programs targeted to adult learners.
  • Simmons College: In partnership with 2U, the college transformed its business model by developing high-quality, online graduate programs that expand its reach beyond geographical constraints.
  • Southern New Hampshire University: Its radically affordable College for America creates opportunities for adult learners through a competency-based degree program in which the university partners with employers.

Leaders at these institutions used a variety of strategies to ignite different types of innovation, including building heavyweight teams, developing autonomous units, partnering with external organizations, and creating alliances with employers. But similarities also emerge: successful innovators focus on solving specific challenges for specific types of students and proactively build their institutional capabilities for innovation. (more…)

Competency-Based Education Gains Momentum

March 8, 2017 by

This post first appeared in the EDUCAUSE Transforming Higher Ed blog on Febuary 6, 2017.

We’re examining competency-based education (CBE), an approach that has been celebrated for its customization and modularized structure, enabling students to demonstrate mastery and move at their own pace through academic programs. Beyond its timing advantages, CBE also has been cited as a means of supporting student equity, and encouraging knowledge transfer—in order to sufficiently educate kids as well as adults for roles that are currently evolving, or perhaps those which have yet to be created.

While CBE remains somewhat nascent across K-12 districts and postsecondary institutions, it has gained a foothold and interest in it continues to grow across the United States.

I spoke with educators, academic experts and institutional leaders to learn more about the ways in which CBE is serving students of all ages, grades and skill levels, and to better understand existing collaborations or points of intersection between schools and academia.

The approach is currently bridging gaps between employers and aspiring college graduates; there appears to be significant potential for CBE to also positively impact younger students.

Embracing the Real World

Matthew Prineas, Vice Provost and Dean of The Undergraduate School at University of Maryland University College, agrees.

“The promise of competency-based methodology is its power to create new connections and seamless pathways between K12, higher education, and the workplace,” he said.

“At UMUC, we are developing competency-based learning experiences that connect the real-world skills employers are asking for with the intellectual abilities our students need for academic success. We believe that competency-based approaches are equally adaptable to the needs of our adult students, who are looking to connect their prior experience with a college credential and a profession, as they are for high school students, who need to develop the foundational skills and behaviors necessary for success in college and beyond.

The emphasis is, of course, on demonstrated mastery rather than rote memorization.

“By putting the focus on what students can do, not just what they know, competencies give us the means to construct learning experiences that are more relevant and engaging—and that is to the benefit of all students, wherever they are in their educational journey.” (more…)

What’s New in Competency-Based Higher Ed?

March 3, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicThought Leadership: Steven Mintz, Executive Director of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, highlights six pathways to bring more post-secondary students toward academic and career success: modularized curriculum, competency-based curriculum, stackable credentials, structured or guided pathways, learn and earn models, and pipeline programs.

New Report: The Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success released a new report: Equity Measures in State Outcomes-Based Funding: Incentives for Public Colleges to Support Low-Income and Unprepared Students.

Federal Policy Update: Competency education was discussed in a House of Representatives hearing in early February. In his spoken and written testimony, Kevin Gilligan made legislative suggestions regarding competency education. Access the hearing and testimony here.

Emerging Competency-Based Programs

  • Two North Carolina universities (North Caroline State University and the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill) are offering competency-based teacher licensure programs to help lateral-entry professionals get the training they need for teacher certification.
  • Mohave Community College (in Lake Havasu City, Arizona) created a competency-based program for students pursuing a substance abuse counseling degree, and will expand to auto collision repair in fall of 2017.

Opinion Articles

  • Student Erin Nguyen argues for UCLA to implement competency-based education in STEM courses to promote academic rigor and foster student learning.
  • This Op/Ed article argues the University of Missouri should adopt promising practices from Purdue, including the introduction of competency-based programs, to help offset enrollment declines and provide affordable, productive, applicable learning experiences.


Making the Case for CBE Programs

February 28, 2017 by

Matt Soldner

On March 29 from 2 PM to 3 PM ET, American Institutes for Research, the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, Public Agenda, and the Competency-Based Education Network: C-BEN are hosting a webinar Making the Case for CBE Programs: Aligning for Learning: Evaluating Connections.

Presenters include:

Natasha Jankowski, Director, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Kelle Parsons, Researcher, Postsecondary Success, American Institutes for Research

Matt Soldner, Principal Researcher, Postsecondary Success, American Institutes for Research

You can Register Here.

Description of the Webinar

Competency-Based Education is about the DOING of learning, which means that the assessment of learning takes on significant prominence in the enterprise. On the one hand, decisions need to be made about the measures or types of assessment used. Yet, in addition to choice of assessment approach, there is a need to have clear demonstration of alignment between competencies, assessments, and broader evaluation goals. It is critical to our understanding program effectiveness as well as integrated student learning. Further, without clear alignment, using the information to make meaningful programmatic changes becomes increasingly difficult. (more…)

Completion Strategies Webinar

February 24, 2017 by

A new CBE Info webinar on completion strategies will be offered on Wednesday, March 1 from 11-12 CST. The webinar will focus on completion strategies to help students from day one to be successful. Margaret Simonis, from WGU and Judy Arriaga, Austin Community College will discuss pacing of courses and contact rate between students and student mentors/coaches/navigators. The presenters will also discuss the relationship between mentors and faculty as it impacts on time progress, retention, and completion. Available student resources to help with time management, study skills, and life issues will also be explored.

This webinar is free to register and participate in. Register here.

What’s New in Competency-Based Higher Education?

February 10, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicNews

  • Competency education is gaining momentum in K-12 and higher education. This blog explores the areas where K-12 and higher education appear to be at a confluence.
  • The Executive Director at the Institute of Competency-Based Education at Texas A&M, Judith Sebesta, highlights 5 questions to ask when starting a competency education program, detailing tips for a successful framework and lessons learned.
  • Parents are among the fastest growing demographic of college students, and the number of child care centers on campus is decreasing. Competency-based education accommodates parents’ schedules and work responsibilities.

Competency-Based Education Webinar Series

CBE Info announced the continuation of the CBE for Community Colleges webinar series this academic year. The webinars are free to attend.

There is a growing interest in competency-based education (CBE) for higher education as one of the approaches to accelerate students’ progress-to-degree while assuring the quality and validity. The webinars will help those that wish to understand how CBE can work and how they can get started on the development of CBE programs at their own institutions. (more…)

Will Alternative Credentials Replace College Degrees?

February 6, 2017 by

StudentsThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on January 23, 2017. 

The question of whether alternative credentials—in the form of everything from badges to nanodegrees and from micromasters to certificates—will displace degrees from colleges and universities is heating up.

Many have speculated that 2017 may be the year that employers begin to move en masse away from filtering applicants based largely on where they went to school and to an approach where they evaluate the actual competencies prospective employees possess to determine if there is a match. In his book The End of Average, Todd Rose profiles some companies that have already moved to such an approach.

Richard Garrett, chief research officer at Eduventures, has poured cold water on the prospect of alternative credentials replacing degrees anytime soon, but added that if they did, it could help tackle higher education’s cost challenges.

The challenge for all innovation in this area is that the “Job” that human resource professionals are hiring the college degree to do is efficiently disqualify a large portion of applicants so they can focus on a smaller number of high potential candidates. At this point, no new solution competes with the efficiency of glancing at a resume to see where someone went to college. As a result, many emerging alternative credentials have served as supplements to and differentiators on top of the degree, but not full replacements.

At the LearnLaunch Institute’s 2017 Across Boundaries conference, I am moderating a panel with Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass; Liz Simon, vice president of legal and external affairs at General Assembly; and Stephanie Krauss, campaign director at Connecting Credentials to unpack the question further. 

Against this backdrop, new research has emerged from LinkedIn Learning’s Insider Survey with a more optimistic take. The survey gathered its information from a panel of 30 to 45 notable learning and development experts, including corporate learning executives, leaders from educational nonprofits, and industry analysts focused on enterprise training and development. (more…)

New Webinar Series from the Institute for Competency-Based Education

February 2, 2017 by

TAMThe Institute for Competency-Based Education (Texas A&M University) is offering one-hour webinars through its Practical Perspectives on CBE: A Webinar Series from the Institute for Competency-Based Education series.

The first Webinar is open for registration now.

Webinar #1
Developing a Data-Driven CBE Program
February 8, 2017, 2:00pm CT
Carlos Rivers, Operations Research Analyst, Institute for Competency-Based Education, Texas A&M University-Commerce
Register now!

Future offerings will include: (more…)

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