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Competency-Based Education

With competency-based education showing much promise for providing efficient pathways for adults with prior college credit but no degree to finish a postsecondary credential, many institutions are considering developing programs of their own. The ACC Network has collected a series of resources, links, and examples, that may be of interest to those considering embarking on this path.

The following briefs, examples, resources, and links are certainly an incomplete list and will be updated regularly. This list borrows in part from our colleagues at WCET, who hosted a leadership summit focused on the topic. The website from that summit has dozens of presentations and other resources that may be useful as well.

Federal and State Financial Aid

Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter on financial aid implications of direct assessment of competencies. This document provides guidance on the process to pursue federal financial aid eligibility for programs that directly assess competencies (rather than “translate” them into credit hours).

Establishing Federal Financial Aid Eligibility for Competency-based EducationThis brief provides an analysis of the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter and details the steps institutions must take for a competency-based education program based on direct assessment to qualify for federal financial aid programs.

State Financial Aid Programs and Competency-based Education. This brief discusses issues related to incorporating competency-based education into state financial aid programs and cites numerous examples from around the country. The brief is part of Lumina Foundation’s state Strategy Labs, which brings together state policymakers to develop policy and practice solutions to increase state and national degree attainment.  

Competency-based Education and Federal Student Aid. This brief, by Stephen Porter from North Carolina State University, provides an overview of federal financial aid regulations and their implications for competency-based education.

Experimental Sites Concept Paper: Competency-based Education. This paper calls for testing new approaches to federal financial aid and competency-based education through the creation of “experimental sites” (which are allowed under existing regulations) that would waive certain provisions of federal law.

Networks and Collaborations to Develop and Implement Competency-based Education Programs

The Competency-based Education Network (CBEN). The 20 institutions in this network are implementing competency-based education programs. The network, funded by Lumina Foundation, is designed to provide a forum to share promising strategies, address common challenges, and develop successful institutional models.

CAEL’s Jump Start program. These 14 institutions are receiving technical assistance and professional development to facilitate the implementation of competency-based programs.

Other Briefs and Reports

The Landscape of Competency-Based Education. From the American Enterprise Institute's Series on Competency-Based Higher Education, this Robert Kelchen report examines the current landscape of competency-based education providers. Kelchen looks into who is using competency-based programs, what these different programs look like, the types of students they serve, and what the programs cost.

All Hands on Deck: Ten Lessons from Early Adopters of Competency-based Education. This analysis of existing competency-based programs, by WCET’s Patricia Book, looks at the lessons these programs have identified from their initial work, including their challenges in qualifying for federal financial aid.

Meeting Students Where They Are: Profiles of Students in Competency-based Programs. This report, from the Center for American Progress, examines competency-based education from the student perspective and details the benefits and challenges they can face in pursuing this pathway.

Principles for Developing Competency-based Education Programs. This brief, by Sally Johnstone of Western Governor’s University and Louis Soares of the American Council on Education (ACE), proposes a series of principles to ensure quality and integrate competency-based programs within existing institutional structures.

ACC Network Webinars

Competency-based Education: The University of Wisconsin’s Flexible Option (Slides are hererecording is here.) Leaders of Wisconsin’s statewide competency-based education program shared the initial lessons from development and implementation of the program in this March 2014 webinar.

The University of Wisconsin’s Flex Option (Part Two): The Nuts and Bolts of Developing the Flex Curricula (Slides are hererecording is here). This May 2014 webinar looks more closely at the development of the academic side of the state’s competency-based education program.