Reviews the development of competency-based education, outlines current challenges and emerging models of competency-based education in higher education systems.
“Competency-based postsecondary degree programs—programs that focus sharply on what students know and can do—are on the rise. These programs do not assume that successful completion of a series of courses results in the achievement of learning outcomes; rather, they confirm student learning through individual assessment” (p.4). “This paper defines unifying concepts shared by different competency-based education programs, describes current competency-based models using the direct assessment approach, and examines the national policy context that could determine the extent to which these programs are able to go to scale. The author argues that competency-based education provides an opportunity to rethink what a college degree means for student learning while addressing concerns regarding higher education’s quality and cost” (p.3).
(Abstractor: Author)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The number of competency-based postsecondary degree programs is increasing, largely prompted by concerns about higher education’s quality and cost. “The emerging models of direct assessment programs benefit greatly from and are made possible by technology advances that support online learning, adaptive and self-paced learning options, open educational resources, advising and coaching at a distance, and web-based student services and learning management tools” (p.16). “Although the CBE [competency-based education] concept has existed at some institutions for more than 40 years and the direct assessment approach has been operating for more than a decade, CBE degree programs are still considered new within higher education” (p.16). “CBE programs are meeting a clear need that may be uniquely of our time—with technology making so many learning opportunities accessible at low cost and with students, more mobile than ever, taking courses from multiple institutions, learning through multiple avenues, and deserving to have that learning count toward a postsecondary degree or other credential” (p.16). “The concepts that define CBE programs—that students must be able to apply their knowledge and skills in real world settings, that validating student mastery of competencies through assessment helps ensure degree quality, and that what students know and can do are more important than how they learned it—are not a threat to higher education as we know it. On the contrary…these concepts can serve as guideposts in navigating the way to broader acceptance of competency-based programs in higher education” (p.17). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)