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Aurora Institute

What’s New in Competency Education in Higher Education?

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Natalie Slocum

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

Federal Activity: The Obama administration is currently beginning to grant waivers to allow students to receive federal student aid as they innovate with competency-based pathways in higher education. The U.S. Department of Education is allowing at least 40 colleges to experiment with competency-based education by granting them a waiver from specific financial aid rules. Below is a partial list of participating institutions:

  • Antioch University
  • Brandman University
  • Capella University
  • Charter Oak State College
  • Kentucky Community and Technical College System
  • Lipscomb University
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Salt Lake Community College
  • Southern New Hampshire University
  • University of Maryland University College
  • University of Wisconsin-Extension

Competency Ed is Taking Hold: A study by Stuart Rojstaczer found that grade inflation has infiltrated American’s traditional higher education system, placing America’s higher education institutions under further scrutiny, as leaders are more concerned about their national reputation and endowment than the quality of education, according to Rojstaczer.

Also, the results from Inside Higher Ed’s 2015 Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers include, “The idea of competency-based education is now attracting strong support from chief academic officers, especially in public higher education.” Additionally, a recommendation in the Quality & Value Initiative for Ohio Higher Education includes the following: “The state of Ohio should help its colleges and universities develop online competency-based degrees and certificate programs that reach working adults who seek affordable, convenient training in specific industries.”

Michelle Weise of the Clayton Christensen Institute interviewed Southern New Hampshire University President Paul LeBlanc regarding setting up competency-based education separately for success. This blog post discusses the structure of SNHU’s competency education program, in terms of both physical separation and governance separation.

Focus on At-Risk: In this op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Michelle Weise discusses two competing higher education agendas in the U.S.—one about college completion and the other about social mobility. She argues that continued focus on a college degree loses sight of the needs of most first-generation, low-income, and minority students.

Similarly, a report indicates that there is an incredibly troubling potential unintended consequence of performance-based funding: institutions may restrict admissions to only accept students who are most likely to succeed – allowing the institution to receive more funding from the state. This report includes recommendations to provide incentives in performance-based funding models to admit at-risk student groups.