Colleges optimistic about competency-based education despite slow uptake
- College officials are optimistic about competency-based education's (CBE) potential to serve nontraditional students and improve workforce readiness but have not implemented it broadly, according to 501 institutions' responses to a survey from the American Institutes for Research and Eduventures.
- A little more than half of respondents said their college is planning to or has added a CBE program. Of those institutions, 57% reported they were still in the planning stages. Nearly one-third (32%) said it was happening at the course level while 11% reported having at least one full program.
- Undergraduate CBE programs had relatively small enrollments. About half of respondents with undergraduate CBE offerings (53%) had fewer than 50 students in each program, while only 4% enrolled more than 1,000 undergraduates their programs.
Howard Lurie, an Eduventures analyst who co-authored the report, wrote in June that while CBE has not "sparked a higher education revolution," its "core premise continues to stimulate widespread debate in higher education." Yet the colleges seeking out CBE models "remain few and far between," Lurie noted in a post about the latest survey.
The report considered courses or programs that used any of the following three elements as CBE: measuring learning either without reference to seat time or mapped to measures of seat time; requiring mastery of all competencies in order for students to advance; or allowing students to self-pace courses or programs.
Institutions reported several barriers in the way of their adoption of CBE, including regulations governing what types of programs are eligible for Title IV funds and other institutional initiatives taking priority.
However, three-quarters of the respondents expect CBE to "significantly grow" in the next five years. There is still debate around whether CBE will allow students to obtain credentials faster and for less money, as some of its advocates suggest, and if current rules around colleges' Title IV funding access are too restrictive, Lurie notes.
The report comes as the Education Department is underway with a negotiated rulemaking session that touches on several issues central to CBE. Those include the definition of the credit hour and the requirement for "regular and substantive" interaction between students and instructors.
The Ed Department has signaled support for more flexibility around these areas of the regulations. Earlier this month, for instance, it reversed a decision to fine Western Governors University $713 million after an audit found the CBE-centric online college wasn't in compliance with federal standards for online education.
Critics, however, have said that weakening such standards could result in colleges using more pre-recorded videos while pulling back students' access to subject-matter experts during courses. It could also encourage some colleges to inflate credits to get more federal aid, which occurred before current standards were in place.
- American Institutes of Research National Survey of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education