Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Recommended Action: Replicate NESSC’s Collegiate Endorsement in Other States

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Federal Policy, Modernize HEA

CollegeWe are in the midst of our annual reflection on the field of competency education – What is changing? What is working? What are the big issues that are emerging? In what is the field getting stronger or not?

Our field, that set of organizations and people that support or influence states, districts, schools, and educators in advancing competency education, continues to get stronger. There are more organizations every year that are doing work in the arena of competency education, although sometimes clumsily (I just read a short piece by McKinsey on personalization that seemed to confuse competency-based with online learning). We definitely want more organizations, especially organizations working within states and regions, to be joining the party.

However there are three downsides we need to watch out for:

#1 Limited Understanding: Organizations that haven’t taken the time to really understand competency education and offer a contorted or shallow view. (We love it when organizations bring new insights and depth and push our thinking on competency education.) To avoid this, we have to stretch ourselves to lend a helping hand to those organizations early on.

#2 Competition for Funding: It’s bound to happen when there are a lot of organizations working in the same field. So it’s very important that we address #1 i so that funders don’t invest in organizations that might lead us astray or cause unnecessary turmoil or confusion in the field. In addition, we need to make sure we are using funding as effectively as possible to clear the way for educators and tackle the big issues.

#3 Looking for a Way to Contribute: New organizations build capacity and then need something to do to make a contribution. No one organization can do everything, and we need to work together to make sure that we are tackling as many of the important things as we can. This requires some level of coordination and speaking with other organizations when creating a new project or initiative.

This brings me to my recommendation for a very important initiative that no one is doing right now, as far as I know. We really, really, really need state and regional organizations to replicate what the New England Secondary School Consortium has done in engaging institutions of higher education in making the proficiency pledge: 67 colleges and universities endorsed proficiency-based learning and pledged not to disadvantage students who went to proficiency-based high schools. They have cleared away a perceived obstacle: the possibility that students in proficiency-based schools might be less competitive in some way in the college admissions process. (This handout is a pdf file that explains the Collegiate Endorsement initiative.)

NESSC did this by convening representatives of higher education to talk about a proficiency-based transcript and diploma and then asking them to make a public pledge (below). They then had each of the college’s endorsements linked to their website for any school counselor to use when talking with students and parents. Brilliant!


In a collective effort to join other institutions of higher education and the New England Secondary School Consortium in the support of stronger academic preparation for postsecondary study, leading to increased collegiate enrollments and higher completion rates in our degree programs, we, the undersigned:

  1. Endorse proficiency-based approaches to instruction, assessment, graduation, and reporting that establish universally high learning expectations and standards for all students in K-12 schools.
  2. Accept a wide range of student transcripts if they meet our stated admissions requirements and provide a full and accurate presentation of what an applicant has learned and accomplished.
  3. Pledge that applicants to our institutions with proficiency-based transcripts will not be disadvantaged in any way.

This endorsement recognizes that strong educational preparation benefits our students, our faculty, and our institution, and towards these ends we strongly support proficiency-based teaching practices, assessments, report cards, graduation decisions, and other strategies that can increase student preparation for higher education, modern careers, and lives of active, informed citizenship.

They also engaged the New England Board of Higher Education in the conversations, leading to a policy spotlight that further communicated that proficiency-based education is now considered mainstream in New England.

We now need to do this in other parts of the country. There are lots of different types of organizations that could do this, although some are going to be better positioned than others to represent and communicate the interests of high schools and institutions of higher education. It could be a state education agency, a regional education lab, an association, or a previously existing partnership. It could even be a national organization with a number of state and regional partners that might create a national website with all the colleges and universities signing on to the proficiency pledge.

What’s important is that a few organizations step up to expand the collegiate endorsement and for funders to support them. We definitely need this type of initiative in the Midwest states with Ohio’s pilots, Wisconsin’s vibrant networks, a few districts in Michigan, and Illinois’ recent legislation to invest in pilots. Oregon and Colorado both need to take this on soon as they have so many districts moving forward.

Perhaps a program officer with limited budget but the desire to offer catalytic investments and tap into their power of convening might take this on to help organize and see through?

And if you know of any organization taking on this responsibility, please let us know. We want to support them in every and all ways to be successful.

See also: