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)

The cohort includes 19 institutions:

  • Antioch University
  • Argosy University
  • Brandman University
  • Broward College
  • Capella University
  • Charter Oak State College
  • City University of Seattle
  • DePaul University
  • Excelsior College
  • Lipscomb University
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Salt Lake Community College
  • Southern New Hampshire University
  • The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (Texas A&M University-Commerce and South Texas College)
  • The University of Maine at Presque Isle
  • The University of Maryland University College
  • Westminster College

In addition, two systems serving 42 campuses also are participating: Kentucky Community & Technical College System and the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

The C-BEN Steering Committee, comprising higher education innovators from several of these institutions, will guide the work and will periodically issue additional calls for applications.

“We were impressed by applications we reviewed and the overall level of work going on in the field,” said Co-Chairman Schejbal, dean of continuing education, outreach and eLearning at UW-Extension in a press release. “This group believes we can accelerate progress on developing our models and help inform the field of higher education by collectively testing approaches that speed the transition to programs that advance students based on learning instead of ‘seat time.'”

“Priority will be given to addressing significant obstacles that cannot be adequately resolved in isolation,” said Co-Chairman Dodge, vice provost and vice chancellor of institutional assessment and planning at Brandman, a Hispanic-serving institution with campuses in California and Washington State.

Public Agenda, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and public engagement organization, received a three-year grant from Lumina Foundation to coordinate and manage the network. Southern New Hampshire University received an additional grant to host the network’s regular meetings, which will begin in April in Phoenix. Additional working sessions have been scheduled for July in Washington, D.C., and October in Nashville, Tenn.


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