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Aurora Institute

Exploring the CBE Landscape

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Dorothy Wax

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

LandscapeOne of the frustrations of those who are considering moving toward a competency-based model is the lack of data available about existing programs, including who is in the space, what challenges they faced or are facing still, and what the programs look like. There may be some answers to those questions very soon, thanks to a project called the CBE Landscape. Funded by the Gates Foundation, the project seeks to, well, get a better picture of the CBE Landscape. Several organizations are participating as partners or thought leaders, including the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), Educause, ACE, AAC&U, Quality Matters, and CAEL.

The primary data is being collected through a survey that was circulated this summer, and several meetings will be held to supplement those findings. The first will be held Monday, September 14 in Washington, DC from 2-6 pm, where there will be a review of the preliminary findings from the survey. This is being held in conjunction with an invitation-only CBE convening on September 15, co-sponsored by CAEL, Excelsior College, and Fielding Graduate University. To register for the Landscape pre-session, email Stephanie Krauss at [email protected]. Space is limited to the first 80 registrants. 

The survey, which was disseminated to hundreds of colleges and universities, is looking at a number of issues related to CBE. Among the basic information being sought is who already has a CBE program and who might be considering it, including:

  • Type of institution (community college, research university, etc.)
  • Regional accreditation
  • Number and type of program (business, education, IT, etc.)
  • Credentials offered, such as certification or degree
  • Professional accreditation, such as from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business

This section of the survey also sought information on ten design elements, such as whether the programs are learner-centered, what staffing roles look like, and the financial models being used.

A second section of the survey took the design elements much deeper to discover emerging practices of CBE programs. In this section, there were forty-two elements presented and participants were asked to indicate whether they had adopted/would adopt the elements, and to what degree. They were also asked to identify whether any of the elements were challenging to them, and whether any were total barriers. Generally speaking, the elements identified dealt with assessment focus, use of technology and data systems, pricing models to increase access and affordability, competency alignment with workforce needs, and integration of competencies across the curriculum.

The third section of the survey looked at these same forty-two elements in terms of building a robust CBE program and asked how important each of the elements was in starting a CBE program.

The second Landscape related meeting, the CBExchange, will take place October 1-2 in Phoenix. At this meeting, participants will get an overview of the Landscape findings to date and have the opportunity to attend sessions on many of the issues raised in the survey, including learner-centered and robust programs, financial models, faculty roles, and assessments for the demonstration of learning. Anyone interested in attending the CBExchange can learn more at

Dorothy Wax is the Associate Vice President for Operations for CAEL. She manages CAEL’s CBE Jumpstart program, which is funded by the Lumina Foundation and is providing training to 21 institutions and systems of higher education on CBE.