Concerning Competency-Based Education
Competency-based education (CBE) is currently touted as an important innovation in higher education that has the potential to disrupt the traditional model and to radically transform the way students receive a postsecondary education. CBE is characterized by an individualized approach to education in which students learn at their own pace and demonstrate the attainment of predetermined competencies, typically through performance assessments. CBE is a system that challenges the course-sequenced, credit-based college degree program that has been criticized for high cost, inefficiency, and failing to prepare students for job placement. In recent years, CBE proponents have cited numerous advantages to this approach including the benefits of self-directed learning, flexibility (“anytime, anywhere” learning), and a focus on experiential learning through real-world activities.
Why Alternative Credentials Are Critical to Institutional Success
Anyone who has ever attended a program advisory committee meeting knows that it can be a mix of exciting inspiration and terrifying fear that one’s programs are not doing enough to prepare one’s graduates. While members of the business community will often give helpful, positive commentary on the knowledge the institution’s graduates bring to the professional environment, they may also pose a problem that the traditional university was never designed to handle: teaching skills in the first or second year of study that will still be cutting-edge and desired by industry at the time of graduation.
At the same time, institutions are increasingly being contacted by working professionals who want to “retool” or update their skills to be more attractive for promotion or increases in responsibility. These working professionals often do not want or need to complete an entire degree to get the value they want from a program, but they do need course options geared to their professional and scheduling needs.
Welcome to the world of alternative credentials. According to “Demographic Shifts in Educational Demand and the Rise of Alternative Credentials,” a report by educational company Pearson and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), alternative credentials are defined as “competencies, skills, and learning outcomes derived from assessment-based, non-degree activities [that] align to specific, timely needs in the workforce.”