7 More Competency-based Education Programs to Watch


I just read a great article at Education Dive by Keith Burton on 7 Competency-based Programs to Keep an Eye On. Keith does a fine job highlighting the CBE higher education programs that get the most media attention: University of Michigan, The University of Wisconsin System, Purdue University, Western Governor’s University, Southern New Hampshire University, Capella University, and Northern Arizona University. These are well-funded programs from large entities that are already having great success (as in WGU and SNHU) or are likely to do so in the near future.

As noted in Burton’s article, there are hundreds more who are offering CBE programming. Often in the world of education, we look at the largest and most well-funded initiatives for the example, but I find it useful to also pay attention to some of the smaller, lesser known programs around which there might be less media attention. Some of these might provide the ideal solution for a given context. With that in mind, I offer 7 more competency-based education programs to watch, not because they are necessarily going to be massive, but each one offers a new lesson, model, or example.

1. Patten University and New Charter University – These two for-profit schools are managed by UniversityNow , a social venture committed to increasing access to affordable and quality higher education. Patten, the newer acquisition of the two (it was previously a non-profit faith-based school) has the accreditation approval of Western Association of Schools and Colleges and is offering wonderfully inexpensive education through carefully designed competency-based programming that is gaining the praise of important external stakeholders. Tuition for undergraduate studies, for example, is only $350 per month. Part of what earned this praise is their decision to opt out of the federal financial aid program, allowing them more flexibility in how they go about their CBE program. This is an important case study that can help prove the effectiveness of a model that is not constrained by the some of the policies applied to CBE schools that offer federal financial aid.

2. Concordia University Wisconsin – Of course I need to include this one because I work there and am involved in the design of it. With that said, I do see it as providing an important case/example as schools consider different routes toward CBE. What makes it noteworthy, however, is that it is not technically a competency-based program. It uses standard courses with start and end dates, grades, includes a small percentage of assessment that is less competency-based; but it still is largely built around competency-based digital badges. In essence, it is one model of how to leverage the best of CBE within a traditional program. So, it is a more traditional online program, but students earn competency-based digital badges along the way.

3. University of Texas –  As of publishing this post, the University of Texas is one of the newest, offering some distinctions that we do not see in other CBE programming. It leverages personalized learning, adaptive learning, and spans high school through graduate studies. Following is a short quote from their press release:

The University of Texas System will be the first in the nation to launch a personalized, competency-based education program system-wide aimed at learners from high school through post-graduate studies.

What sets the UT System approach apart from other competency-based programs is a focus on offering personalized and adaptive degrees and certificates that are industry-aligned and – via technology developed by the UT System – can systematically improve success, access and completion rates in areas of high employment demand.

4. Bellevue College – Another brand new implementation, Bellevue college starts its pilot in the in past several months, focusing upon offering certificates and full degrees in technical areas. This is a fully online option. You can read more through their FAQ page.

5. Indiana CPA Center for Excellence – This is yet another first in the United States. It is not a degree program, but instead the first competency-based program for maintaining licensure as a CPA in the state of Indiana. This is an important model to consider as a growing number of professional organizations are looking at CBE for the purposes of maintaining competent licensed practitioners in various fields. By the way, they also issue digital badges as evidence of meeting competencies.

6. Valencia College – Valencia offers us a valuable case of how CBE can be applied for faculty development. So, this is not for the students, but it is a program that illustrates how we might use self-paced, competency-based professional development activities. Might this also prepare faculty for future CBE programs with the students?

7. Edmonds Community College – This one is noteworthy because they use the magic word, “free.” Through Edmonds Community College’s Pace-IT program, they are offering a free competency-based certificate in information technology. That is certainly a way to work through issues with financial aid. You can look through their site.

As I stated at the beginning, it is good and important to track the work of the large Universities and massive players in competency-based education, but some of the lesser known or smaller players have a great deal to offer. As we seek to consider the affordances and limitations of CBE, I contend that is important not to make the same mistake we did with MOOCS, evaluating MOOCs only on the basis of what happens at the big two: Coursera and EdX. We want to look at the rich and broad landscape of CBE, and the seven listed above push us in that direction.

Please consider sharing examples of other competency-based programs in a comment.