Ensuring Title IV funding for your CBE students

Ensuring Title IV funding for your CBE students

By Carie Ann Potenza on Monday, May 9, 2016


Understanding the differences between direct assessment and credit/clock hour

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 categorisations can directly impact the types of funding a program may eligible for.

The feds have outlined a few characteristics that they use to define a CBE program: (1) programs organise content by competency or outcomes; and (2) a student’s academic progress can be measured by assessing the identified outcomes on the basis of mastery. In other words, to be considered a higher education CBE program in the eyes of the federal government, the program must define what the student needs to know, and then measure the degree to which the student has mastered that knowledge.

With that in mind, the federal government has also identified two types of competency-based education programs: direct assessment and credit/clock hour programs.

  1. With direct assessment programs, the student’s progress is measured by assessment of the competency. The Department of Education approves direct assessment programs and the institution’s accrediting agency must approve the credit equivalency. All outcomes measured in a direct assessment competency-based program must be directly measured. To put it another way, the student’s progress is not measured by time spent on courses, but rather through verifiable, measured assessment to determine what that student has mastered.

  2. A credit/clock hour CBE program is designed to assess the competencies and then the competencies are mapped back to specific courses. A credit crosswalk map is created to demonstrate which competencies are covered in which courses of a program. This allows higher education students to get credit for the specific courses. Basically, students take the needed courses to fulfill competency requirements.

    Credit/clock hour programs require DOE and accreditation approval if the content is a new program. However, if an institution is deconstructing a current course or program and restructuring it as a competency-based program, notification to the DOE and accreditors is not required. A credit/clock hour program can have a combination of traditional course-hour courses in addition to competency-based courses that map back to credit-hour courses. The credit crosswalk courses must account for satisfactory academic activity for each aid-eligible credit hour. The institution’s policies for credit crosswalk also must be in compliance with the institution’s accreditors.

Currently, programs must be one or the other: direct assessment or credit/clock hour CBE programs. In other words, institutions cannot combine credit/clock hour courses with direct assessment competencies to be eligible for Title IV funding. The department of education is accepting applications for experimental sites if institutions seek alternative programs of learning. Click here for additional information.

Although the precise definition of “competency-based education” may still be in flux, the federal government’s definitions of what is (and isn’t) a CBE program remains the best option for understanding the field. And when it comes to obtaining the most funding for the students, the parameters set forth by the feds are the only option.

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About the Author

Carie Ann Potenza

Carie Ann Potenza

Director, Academic and Grant Services, Ellucian

Carie Ann Potenza has more than two decades of experience in higher education and teaching, specializing in academic innovation, student success, and teaching and learning with technology.