“Competency-based education has the potential to streamline the path to a college degree for a significant number of students, both working adults who can apply their skills and experiences to earn credit for what they already know and other students who prefer self-paced learning over the traditional time-based model of earning credits.” That is the conclusion of a new report analyzing the current status – and future potential – of competency-based education (CBE) in the United States, researched by the American Enterprise Institute’s Center on Higher Education Reform.
The study, “The Landscape of Competency-Based Education,” found that there are currently 34 colleges nationwide that have CBE programs, with at least 18 more colleges working on developing programs. One of those 34 colleges is Connecticut’s Charter Oak State College, the state’s on-line degree-granting institution. It is the only Connecticut college highlighted in the report.
For Charter Oak, the approach is wholly consistent with its mission, not a new concept, and growing in interest and popularity among potential students.
The report indicates that a growing number of colleges and universities are offering, or soon will offer, college credits in exchange for direct demonstrations of learning, NPR recently reported. “That's a big shift from credit hours — the currency of higher education for more than a century — which require students to spend an allotted amount of time with instructors. A ‘competency’ might be a score on a standardized exam or a portfolio of work. The major argument in favor of competency-based programs is that they will offer nontraditional students a more direct, more affordable path to a degree,” the NPR story indicated.
Charter Oak State College has been very involved in the competency based education national movement for some time. The institution’s President and Provost are part of the steering committee of C-BEN, the Competency Based Education Network which is comprised of colleges who are interested in “pushing the traditional college delivery envelope.” The initiative is funded by the Lumina Foundation, one of the nation’s most respected education foundations.
Charter Oak State College President Ed Klonoski participated in a panel of leading higher education innovators in Washington, D.C. to discuss new and emerging models of academic learning and assessment. The panel was moderated by Jamie Merisotis, Lumina Foundation President & CEO (and a Connecticut native), and took place in The Dirksen Senate Office Building nearly two years ago.
Klonoski pointed out that "at Charter Oak we have been offering competency based approaches to higher education since our founding in 1973,” adding that “these approaches are now being highlighted as ways to lower the cost of higher education and accelerate degree attainment."
Panelists addressed the growing importance of identifying and assessing learning outcomes and their impact on shortening the time toward degree completion, and shared insights about innovative and effective models in linking learning and degree attainment.
Also in 2014, the federal Department of Education sought proposals from institutions seeking status as experimental sites focused on competency-based education. Charter Oak submitted an individual college response and a joint response with C-BEN members. By late last month, the federal agency designated Charter Oak as one of 11 CBEN institutions to participate.
Charter Oak’s proposal would create an Experimental Site in financial aid that would offer aid to students for prior learning (established via portfolios and tests), with the aim of making a college degree more affordable and accessible.
The American Enterprise Institute report calls for more data to be gathered in rigorously examining the range of CBE programs being offered and developed, to better identify strengths and weaknesses of the various types of programs, and the students who would benefit most from particular programs. The report was researched by Robert Kelchen, assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, who noted of the evolving field, “there is still no consensus definition of CBE, even among the institutions that provide it.” Programs fall into two main areas, according to the report:
- Well-established prior learning assessments (PLA), which grant credits for content that a student has previously mastered; and
- Newer competency-based coursework, where students progress toward a degree as they demonstrate mastery of new academic content.
The American Institute plans additional reports on additional aspects of CBE, as the field continues to “catch the attention of federal and state policymakers, foundations, and colleges.”