cbe programs

Report: This kind of student is most likely to enroll in CBE

Though more research is needed, CBE programs are emerging as viable paths for many students.

Although students in CBE programs are generally characterized as being older with work experience under their belts, it’s often hard to identify the true characteristics of these students because they are lumped in with the rest of the student body in their respective institutions.

New research summarized in a report indicates that CBE programs can reduce costs for students who are progressing toward a degree, although traditional models might be better for low-income students who aren’t taking as many courses per year.

But as more CBE programs become eligible for federal financial aid, they could make financial sense for more students.

In the report, author Robert Kelchen focuses on nine schools where many students are in CBE programs or have enrolled with prior credits. Those nine CBE institutions enrolled 146,924 undergraduate students and 57,010 students in the fall of 2012. Seven of the nine schools have mostly part-time students–for instance, 100 percent of Excelsior students are part-time and 99 percent of Thomas Edison students are part-time.

(Next page: Characteristics of CBE programs and students)

1. Demographics vary at the CBE institutions: Overall, 65 percent of undergraduate students are white, 20 percent are black, 9 percent are Hispanic, and 2 percent are Asian.

2. Diversity varies at individual schools–white students make up 48 percent of the population at UMUC, and 93 percent of the population at Granite State College. Every college except Granite State has between 7-12 percent of its student body consisting of Hispanic students. On average, women make up 55 percent of the student body at the standalone CBE campuses, ranging from 47 percent (Thomas Edison) to 70 percent (Granite State College).

3. Age often is the determining factor between a traditional and nontraditional student. Ten percent of undergrduate students at the CBE institutions were younger than 25, fitting with industry knowledge that CBE programs are nicely-positioned for adult students. But the percentage varies when it comes to individual schools–3 percent of students at Capella were under 25, compared to 23 percent at Granite State. About 39 percent of students were between 25 and 34 years of age, 40 percent were between 35 and 49 years of age, and 11 percent were older than 50.

4. Though CBE programs are considered cheaper than traditional models, it is not always the case. CBE programs could be cheaper if students are in an “all you can eat” pricing model in which students pay for a set period of time and can earn as many credits as they want. CBE programs might also be cheaper if students work through coursework more quickly, or if they can transfer more credits from other sources and earn low-cost credits through prior learning assessments. On the other hand, some CBE programs are not eligible for federal financial aid, and if students progress too slowly through the “all you can eat” model, CBE program costs could equal or exceed those of traditional programs.

“Little research has been done on the details of CBE, and more is needed before programs enroll a larger percentage of students,” Kelchen concludes. He suggests additional research around the cost of providing CBE degrees, as well as a closer examination of what types of students and programs are well-suited to competency-based models.

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Laura Ascione

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