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Competency-Based Education: Rising Interest, Gradual Implementation

July 27, 2016

ACE, Ellucian and Eduventures Collaborate on New Report

A survey of leaders at 251 colleges and universities active or interested in competency-based education (CBE) reveals that even while interest in CBE is rising, implementation of CBE courses and programs remain gradual as higher education institutions are exploring how to embrace the complexity required to bring them to scale.

The study, “Deconstructing CBE: An Assessment of Institutional Activity, Goals, and Challenges in Higher Education,” was released July 26 by ACE; Ellucian, a leading global provider for higher education software and services; and Eduventures, a leading independent higher education research and advisory firm.

The study analyzes the diversity of CBE programs and evaluates how CBE can be customized to meet specific institutional needs. The study also offers insights into how CBE is delivered, the role of online tools and platforms, and how these programs compare to traditional higher education in terms of effort, outcomes and communication.

“Our member institutions may benefit from the rich sources of information that are becoming available about CBE implementation,” said Deborah Seymour, chief academic innovation officer at ACE. “The larger the number of sources, the richer the possibilities of CBE choices. This study provides solid information to help with such choices.” 

ACE’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation is committed to students and attainment and offers a wide range of programs and initiatives that support postsecondary access and success and study higher education innovations.

Among the study’s key findings is that CBE targets a diverse community:

  • The majority of respondents (68 percent) look to CBE to expand opportunities and enhance learning for non-traditional students, broadly defined as non-traditional learners, or “diverse learners,” by age or demographics. 
  • Thirty-five percent of respondents see CBE as applicable to more traditional students.
  • Sixty-eight percent of surveyed institutions see CBE as one solution to address workforce needs.

Institutions have choices within a CBE framework, to match the needs of particular programs, students or institutions. 

“CBE does not have to be delivered online, and need not be entirely self-paced,” said Richard Garrett, chief research officer at Eduventures. “A CBE program might value student cohorts, and might target traditional age students rather than working adults. At the same time, CBE does call for schools to do some things differently, such as re-think faculty roles and course development.”

Jeff Ray, president and CEO at Ellucian, said that these results demonstrate a clear need for CBE programs.

“There are 36 million people in the United States who have earned some college credit but not a degree and many more with on-the-job experience who know that higher education is the key to taking their careers to the next level,” he said. “While colleges and universities are seeing a rise in this substantially underserved market, they need help to take CBE from concept to practice."

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