Examines the state of competency-based models of postsecondary education in the U.S., focusing on their assessment capabilities and whether they can function outside of a credit-bearing system.

Describes examples of current competency-focused degree programs in the U.S., which include competency frameworks within traditional course-based systems and competency frameworks that drive curricular redesign (p. 4-5). These competency-based programs allow students to progress towards a degree in various ways (e.g. portfolio assessments, standardized exams, or completing coursework) (p. 5). Argues that this competency-focused model is more efficient, effective and fair to students and identifies suggestions for implementation as well as policy changes that would create a more welcoming environment to this approach (p. 6). “These policy changes can provide a starting point for what could ultimately be a transformed system of higher education that is focused on student learning above all” (p .7).

(Abstractor: Author and Website staff)

Full publication title: Competency-Based Degree Programs in the U.S.: Postsecondary Credentials for Measurable Student Learning and Performance


Major Findings & Recommendations

“Institutions and state higher education systems interested in developing and implementing competency frameworks of their own can learn from the experiences of the colleges and universities that have pioneered the approaches described in this paper. Suggestions for implementation…include the following: • Ensure strong leadership and vision. A strong leader is important for creating an institutional culture that is open to change and oriented to the same mission. • Develop a system of reliable assessments. Some form of assessment is important for the effectiveness of a competency framework in ensuring the quality and value of the degree. • Rethink the traditional models for staffing and courses. A focus on competencies and related assessments may require new or expanded roles for faculty, and it may require a new way to design courses and learning activities. • Establish pathways to other degree programs. Programs breaking free of the seat-time constraint nevertheless need to find ways for their programs to exist within credit-hour systems so that their students are able to transfer to other institutions, receive financial aid, and have their degrees recognized by advanced degree programs” (p. 6). “Several policy changes can help to create a more welcoming environment for these [competency-based] approaches: • Support further adoption of competency-based degree programs. • Support research that results in a greater understanding of competency-based degree programs and how they might be used. • Identify and promote quality principles for competency-based programs. • Align degree-based competencies with workplace skill requirements. • Remove existing policy barriers. • Promote valid approaches to recognizing and awarding credit for prior learning. • Use competency frameworks to support statewide transfer and articulation agreements” (p. 7). (Abstractor: Author)