19 leaders emerge in new degree programs

Colleges and universities come together to discuss the future of competency-based degree programs and business models

degree-competency-collegesThe Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) has selected 19 colleges and universities to address shared challenges to designing and developing competency-based degree programs and related business models.

This initial cohort of institutions either offer degree programs with well-defined learning outcomes and rigorous assessment, or are on their way to creating them. The network was established to support institutions that have an interest in accelerating progress on their models and contributing lessons to the field through structured collaboration involving rapid-cycle testing of practices, processes, and concepts.

The movement toward competency-based academic delivery comes as the U.S., to meet social and economic demands for more college graduates, must provide more education options for more students.

Advocates believe academic programs that clearly define what students must know and be able to do to earn degrees in specific disciplines create significant potential to affordably help students from all backgrounds prepare for further education and employment.

A Gallup Poll last year found 87 percent of Americans believe that students should be able to receive credit for knowledge and skills gained outside of the classroom. In addition, 70 percent of those polled said mastery, not time spent in the classroom, should matter most in awarding college credit.

However, this interest has been tempered by uncertainty among colleges and universities about what can be done within federal law and the implications of using federal student aid to pay for degree programs that do not rely on the credit hour. By working together, institutions in the network hope to address these challenges.

The research-and-development strategy the institutions will undertake as part of this network, coordinated by Public Agenda and funded by Lumina Foundation, will provide an evidence-based approach to advancing high-quality competency-based education capable of serving more students of all backgrounds.

A Steering Committee, led by Laurie Dodge of Brandman University and David Schejbal of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, formed in spring 2013 and the network issued a formal call for membership applications in the fall.

(Next page: The 19 leaders in competency-based degree programs)