Three Ways CBE Is Emerging as a Player in 2018

Competency-based education (CBE) is at the core of three major higher ed programs that were announced over the summer of 2018. Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, is expanding its CBE offerings in its technical programs. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MNSCU) is expanding its efforts to offer students credit for prior learning, and Walden University, an online institution based in Minneapolis, is launching a Bachelor of Science in Nursing completion program. Below we take you through what CBE is, its history and the programs mentioned above. 

Defining CBE

The definition of competency-based education varies among educational entities, but usually boils down to allowing students to demonstrate mastery of subject rather than advance solely through grades and seat time.

Says EdGlossary.com, “competency-based learning can take a wide variety of forms from state to state or school to school—there is no single model or universally used approach.”

Low unemployment rates are causing worker shortages, and that, in turn, is putting pressure on colleges to offer programming that will meet workforce needs while also serving the needs of working adults.

History of CBE

CBE can be traced back to vocational education in the 1960s, according to a How Did We Get Here? A Brief History of Competency-Based Higher Education in the United States” by T. R. Nodine. Between the spring of 2014 and the end of 2015, says Nodine, colleges and universities involved in either the planning or implementation of CBE went from 52 to 600. The institutions involved included public, not-for-profit, for-profit, community colleges and four-year colleges and universities.

Long viewed as an ideal that lacked the structure to effectively employ, CBE continues to gain traction as employers struggle to find adequate workers. Likewise, workers find that job skills are quickly outdated as society embraces technology and innovation.

An overview of the program on the college’s website relays that Nicolet My Way courses combine online work with lab work. Numerous course start dates throughout the year, combined with allowing students to log in to their courses at their convenience, and study at their own pace, are meant to allow students to learn while continuing to meet job and family responsibilities.


Nicolet My Way

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was recently briefed on “Nicolet My Way,” the Nicolet College initiative aimed at working adults who are often juggling work and family and have little time to spare for coursework. In an interview with WXPR radio, Jeff Labs, the college’s dean of trade, industry and apprenticeships, explained,

“… It takes courses that are larger and breaks them down into smaller chunks called competencies. What it is, is students are no longer graded on the traditional grading format of A through F …”

MNSCU Rolls Out Credit for Prior Learning

MNSCU is focusing more on allowing students to earn credit for prior learning. Recognizing that offering ways to cut the cost and time it takes to earn a degree can make a critical difference to working students, and that many of their students do have years of on-the-job experience that makes some coursework seem redundant, the system has created its own new path.

In its version of CBE, various mechanisms are available to help students demonstrate mastery of a skill or topic, including tests, interviews and portfolios. A comprehensive list of what is accepted by South Central College, a MNSCU institution, is posted here.

Walden University Aims to Accelerate Learning

Walden University’s RN-to-BSN completion program aims to meet a projected shortage in nursing that is based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The desires to offer accelerated learning and to reduce the cost of a degree are cited as motives behind the program according to a press release on the university’s website.

It goes on to say, “Walden was one of only six institutions approved by the U.S. government to offer direct assessment competency-based education. Walden’s Tempo Learning launched in 2015 with the competency-based MS in Early Childhood Studies. Other competency-based programs include the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA).”

Three Approaches, All Tailored Toward Adult Students

The three institutions named above each offer their own take on CBE. One is focused on flexibility, another on credit for prior learning, and the third focuses on accelerated learning and reducing the cost of a degree. Yet all three prioritize mastery over credit hours, and all three are targeted toward adults who want to minimize time spent away from families.

For more on adult students click here.

About the Author

Leah Otto

Leah Otto is a content marketing writer for Collegis Education. She holds a Master of Business Communication from the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota. She has taught over nine semesters of college-level marketing and public relations.

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