Ask a half-dozen educators to define “competency-based education,” and you’re likely to get a half-dozen differing definitions. CBE can mean many things to many people, but as far as the federal government is concerned, it knows CBE when it sees it. For institutions looking to start a CBE program, or perhaps take an established competency-based education model to the next level, it’s helpful to know how the government defines CBE, because federal categorizations can directly impact the types of funding a program may eligible for.
Think of education as a map: students need clear directions to get to their chosen destination, and the purpose of a well-designed CBE program is to help students get to where they want to go. But how do we do that? For a CBE program to function, it should be designed backwards. That is, we start with the end in mind—the destination—by incorporating the critical competencies necessary. What are students able to demonstrate after they complete their curricular pathway?
There are 36 million underserved adults with some college credits who are looking to accelerate their careers. By 2020, more than 500,000 students will be enrolled in a competency-based education program. That’s a significant wave of students looking for self-paced, on-demand education. And for many of these individuals, the so-called “traditional” route to a degree (i.e. “seat time” in a lecture hall) just won’t cut it. They have jobs, families, and community obligations. And many students consider CBE as a way to complete their degrees faster, with less debt. But how does a college or university build a CBE program to address this growing demand, and do so quickly and effectively while leveraging the institution’s strengths?