Trending in higher ed: Competency-based Education

What is Competency-based Education?

Competency-based Education takes into account prior learning and is based on students’ mastery of knowledge or proficiency, skills, and abilities in a subject, rather than relying on a traditional, time-based learning structure which revolves around credit hours and grades.

Through CBE, students progress through curriculum at their own pace, and as their competencies are proven, they continue to progress through subject material.

CBE is not a new model; it has been around throughout history as Mastery Learning, Outcome Based Education and more recently as CBE.

Instructors, schools, districts, systems, and others—ranging from K-12 instruction through graduate programs—have all implemented various iterations of CBE and created their own competencies, but those competencies aren’t always interchangeable across institutional, state or employer boundaries as disagreements exist on a concrete definition of CBE.

Some institutions implement CBE through hybrid courses, fully online courses, flat rate fees, non-linear course completion, programs designed with employer input, and other methods.

Recent developments in CBE

The interest in CBE has grown over recent years and so-called “Mega-Universities” such as Western Governors University have found a unique footing, especially through online programming. These universities have tapped into the population of Americans who have some college credit but no degree—a significant 30 million Americans.

By offering these students a more affordable, flexible degree, and ultimately career, path, these universities have expanded access to a higher education for many people including those with full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities which makes a traditional education unfeasible.

Recent rules proposed by the U.S. Education Department appeared to be designed to encourage more growth in CBE programs by modifying the authority of higher education accreditors that “serve as gatekeepers for federal student aid.” The proposal would allow colleges and their accreditors use alternatives like direct assessment, which is a form of CBE, to determine students’ progress.

Competency-based Education at USHE institutions

The Utah System of Higher Education has been actively engaged with CBE efforts at USHE institutions and regularly convenes meetings with point people from other institutions to provide updates on their progress. USHE institutions also have several agreements with Regent-approved private providers and partners to accept transfer and competency-based credits from regionally accredited institutions through SB 195, Credit Acceptance by Higher Education Institutions.

Utah Valley University also has CBE courses in Business/Marketing Education, Allied Health, general education, and others. In addition, a competency-based educational framework is central in UVU’s social work field education curriculum and the clinical curriculum for respiratory therapy.

Salt Lake Community College has nearly 20 flexible schedule, CBE model programs in its School of Applied Technology and Technical Specialties where students can earn a Certificate of Completion, Certificate of Proficiency or Certificate of Achievement. Their CBE programs have the goal of addressing the unique needs of adult learners, and to offer those learners options not available in the traditional academic model. Since 2015, SLCC has enrolled more than 1000 students in its CBE programs. SLCC is also a founding member of the Competency-Based Education Network.

Other institutions in Utah have implemented aspects of CBE like hybrid and fully online courses, flexible scheduling, and more.

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