The essential difference between competency-based education (CBE) and traditional programs is that CBE measures learning without regard to time. They utilize direct measures of assessment to determine understanding of content, as opposed to requiring a certain number of credits or contact hours of class time in order to earn a letter grade. Students instead demonstrate what they know when they know it well enough to be deemed competent. In essence, it is much like an AP exam, only on a far larger scale: AP students must pass a test with a certain level of competency in order to earn credit for the course. Students in a competency-based program must do the same for each course they undertake.
The first program completely based on competencies rather than credits was green-lighted by the Department of Education in August of 2013 at College of America, a community college associated with Southern New Hampshire University. Since then, there has been a push for this type of system to be implemented at community colleges across the country. This movement is the result of several shifts in the landscape of higher education in recent years. As the cost of a college education continues to rise, community colleges, universities, federal agencies, and private entities have been exploring a less expensive way for students to obtain a degree or certification. The individualized pacing of CBE is seen by many as a solution to this problem, as it is a system of learning completely free of time-based instruction.
- Institutions wishing to grant Title IV funding to students in competency-based programs must apply for approval from the Department of Education.
- Institutions must demonstrate how equivalencies are determined between credit hours and direct assessment methods.
- Institutions must get approval for these programs from their accrediting body.
- Financial aid may only be awarded for learning that takes place under the supervision of the current institution.
- Ensure that competencies and assessments are well defined to ensure students are mastering the material adequately.
- Completely reconstruct the role of professors and their relationship with students. Rather than lecturing and disseminating knowledge tostudents, professors would instead act as a guide, allowing students to discover learning on their own, while being available to provide extra guidance if necessary.
- Utilize the burgeoning power of technology to provide support for students as they undertake individualized instruction.