Competency-based education (CBE) lowers costs and reduces completion

Degree plan for the graduating class
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There is an increase in Competency-based education, which allows students to apply their work and life experience to their education. These degree programs tend to be less expensive, self-paced, and more career-oriented. If students—either through workplace training, outside reading, or purely life experience—happen to have the competence and knowledge required for a particular subject, they can take the test and get credit without having to take a class. Title IV funding (financial aid) is available for some of these programs, which includes the University of Wisconsin and Southern New Hampshire University, a sign that the U.S. Department of Education recognizes its importance. In previous discussions, the global strategy company Parthenon estimated that more than 600 institutions are either exploring or have launched CBE programs, with double-digit growth expected annually from 2013 to 2020. It is too early to predict the efficacy of these programs, but their popularity with students and employers continues to rise.

In 2011, 100 innovators in competency-based education came together for the first time to develop a working definition of competency-based education. In 2019 this definition was updated, as presented in this report from the Aurora Institute. The revised 2019 definition of competency-based education is:

  1. Students’ are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.
  2. Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence.
  3. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  4. Students’ progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  5. Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
  6. Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems.
  7. Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.
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