Is Competency Based Education the next big thing?

The popularity of Competency Based Education (CBE) programs has increased markedly over the past few years. CBE is self-paced, mastery oriented programs that often include the use of technology. Students must master and demonstrate competency in various tasks and skills, in order to obtain their degree. CBE offers an alternative to traditional courses, whether held in-person or online, for a set amount of time with the goal of earning a passing grade and credit hours that apply toward graduation.

There are close to 600 U.S. institutions working on rolling out CBE programs currently. Though the programs have gained notoriety, they aren’t all eligible for federal financial aid, as the Department of Education doesn’t have appropriate measures in place for evaluating credentialing structures.

Developing entire CBE programs is labor and time intensive, as well as requires a large allocation of resources from a college or university. The question now becomes, is CBE a worthwhile investment? And is CBE as good as or even better than traditional higher education models?

A 2015 study conducted by Hart Research Associates found that employers place most value on a prospective employee’s proficiency of communication, teamwork, decision-making and critical thinking skills. Therefore, an evaluation of these skills is necessary to determine the effectiveness of CBE. In order to determine the worthwhileness of CBE programs, it has been suggested that employers rate employees who have graduated from a CBE program on various work related skills. The College for America in Southern New Hampshire has already begun this evaluation process as a means to determine program effectiveness. The study is needed to determine if the investment of time and resources by the students and university is valuable.

Ideally, data from employers of traditional college graduates will eventually be compared to that of CBE graduates to determine which group has demonstrated the essential workforce skills best.


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