Competency-based education is a key step in the Purdue Moves initiative

Purdue Polytechnic Institute’s competency-based education program has cleared its final hurdle, becoming what university representatives say is the first baccalaureate program of its kind in the nation.

The Higher Learning Commission, a regional accreditation organization, approved Purdue University’s degree in Transdisciplinary Studies in Technology. It is the first competency-based degree at Purdue.

Competency-based education gives students direct measurable learning objectives. Purdue’s program allows students to develop skills in an individualized program of study based on their interests.

Jeff Evans, interim associate dean for undergraduate programs, said the program emphasizes creation, application and transfer of knowledge through hands-on learning. Overall, learning is the constant through this program, not time.

“We believe that transdisciplinary studies in technology at Purdue Polytechnic is the first program which combines individualized plans of study, close faculty mentoring of students and a competency-based approach for traditional learners at a public research university,” Evans said.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels said competency-based education is a key step in the Purdue Moves initiative, which is designed to broaden the university’s global impact and enhance education opportunities for all students.

“This degree creates a study plan around the student rather than an academic schedule,” Daniels said. “Students take work at their own pace through the program and, in the end, come away with a proven skill set that is meaningful to employers in today’s business world.”

Next page: Details of the Purdue competency-based program

Competency-based education shifts the focus away from traditional credit hours and instead measures student progress on demonstrated capabilities. The learning is organized around themes and driven by problems rather than seat time in a classroom.

In the Purdue program, faculty offer one-on-one mentorship to students during their skill development.
Purdue Polytechnic Institute Dean Gary Bertoline calls competency-based education the future, and credited faculty for leading the effort.

“This is a significant accomplishment and is a great example of Purdue and the Purdue Polytechnic Institute being a leader in higher education transformation,” he said.

A student must demonstrate expertise in eight broadly defined primary competencies in order to graduate. The primary competencies include design thinking, effective communication, social interaction on a team, ethical reasoning, and innovation and creativity. Each of the competencies is split into five sub-competencies.

However, the competency-based education angle works to incorporate a higher level of integration among technical, scientific and humanities disciplines.

Through the program, achieved competencies will be accounted for while an e-portfolio will showcase them and be added to the students’ academic records.

Bertoline said competency-based education answers the call from industry leaders looking for a different type of higher education graduate.

“They are looking for well-rounded graduates that not only have deep technical knowledge and skills but very broad capabilities for open-ended problem solving, greater creativity, ability to work in diverse teams and better communications skills,” he said.

“We believe the best way to prepare graduates that meet the needs of industry is through competency-based education programs.”

Purdue began work on the program in 2013. Purdue Polytechnic Institute faculty spent a year creating the proposed degree, examining all aspects of higher education and incorporating the latest research about human learning and motivation.

Purdue students from different majors, but primarily from the Purdue Polytechnic Institute, began participating in the pilot program a year later.

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education approved the new program last year after the Purdue Board of Trustees voted in favor of it in April. The HLC vote provided final accreditation.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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