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Profiles in Competency-based Education


December 2, 2013


Profiles in Competency-based Education

The Center for American Progress defines competency-based education, and shares stories of students who have successfully pursued competency-based education, in a new publication.

Meeting Students Where They Are describes the wide variety of formats for competency-based education (CBE), including the direct assessment model as well as competency-based assessment within the more traditional course and credit system. As the authors point out, some CBE is delivered online, some face-to-face and some as a hybrid. The amount of instructor involvement and the types of assessments also vary.

The report profiles several students experiencing CBE in different ways, and notes common themes across these experiences, including: 

  • the rigor of these programs--students expressed how challenging they found assessments
  • the transferability of acquired competencies to workplace settings
  • the value of flexibility for adult returning students
  • the relevance that earning a credential has on career advancement--many students said they went back to school because they were told by their employers that a degree was the only way to advance
  • the value of peer interactions--peer interactions were important for students in programs that provided this opportunity, and those that were in more independent programs missed these connections
  • the importance of coaches, advisers and mentors

The publication went on to recommend policies that promote competency-based education, including providing more authority and guidance on financial aid and alternative ways of measuring progress than the credit hour as well as developing and defining quality standards and competencies by engaging with accrediting bodies and workforce stakeholders.

In related news from Inside Higher Ed, Western Governors University has been working with 11 community colleges over the past year to launch competency-based degrees and certificates, primarily in IT.

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