The Future of Higher Learning: Competency-Based Education

Many universities believe that the days of the credits per hour system and semesters are over. Rather than measuring the amount time students spend in a classroom, schools want to measure the amount of learning taking place on and off campus. The traditional credits per hour system makes it possible for students to progress through college while only completing the bare-minimum to pass. In this traditional program, students often graduate without mastering essential workforce competencies. Competency-based education allows students to learn professional skills outside of the classroom at their own pace. These self-paced programs provide more flexibility in earning credits and in some cases cut the cost of education. Most importantly, competency-based education better ensures students they will be paid what they’re worth and not be crippled by their student debt.

The U.S. Department of Education is urging schools to apply for federal approval for competency-based education programs to provide students with clearly defined pathways to jobs. A competency-based education program emphasizes professional development and real world learning. This helps many employers, because they often find transcripts useless for deciding whether or not a student is fit for a job—a student with a good GPA does not always equal a successful employee. Having students master professional competency areas helps them transition more easily into a career.

Some schools, like the University of Wisconsin, have already created competency-based programs to cater to people who are not able to complete a degree in a traditional sense. Programs like these help students with significant work experience by giving them credit for their professional experiences. It helps students save money on tuition by eliminating redundancies in their coursework, which means they won’t be spending money on classes that they’ve already mastered. Students in these self-paced programs tend to be working adults, with families, who need a flexible school schedule.

Because a competency-based education may not be ideal for every candidate, the U.S. Department of Education wants to test hybrid programs, which would combine a competency-based education with traditional credits per hour classes. Hybrid programs allow students to develop skills outside of the classroom and learn in a traditional classroom setting. Including classes with competency based education gives a more rigid structure to a system that may be overwhelming to an average 18-22 year old college student. The hybrid option would give students in a traditional degree program the chance to earn credits faster while developing professional skills.

A college degree could be more powerful than just a degree—it could lead to a fulfilling lifelong career. With competency-based education students will not only prove their worth through grades, but through meaningful, real-life professional and personal development.


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