It’s the decade of competency-based education. In a survey of two- and four-year institutions of higher education, 82% of respondents expected CBE to grow nationally in the next five years. As interest rises, so have the many misconceptions about CBE, including that it will look the same at every institution. Despite different organizations outlining CBE guidelines and standards, the approach your institution takes to implement CBE can — and should — have its own “flavor.”

Consider these questions to determine which flavor of CBE is best for your institution.

Will You Keep Your Current Terms and Course Structure? 

CBE allows for more flexibility in course delivery and term structure than traditional learning models, but it can also be embedded within the standard academic calendar. When launching your CBE transformation, it’s vital to determine whether you will stick with your typical enrollment calendar or allow rolling enrollment with varying start dates throughout the year.

Varied start dates (weekly or monthly) and rolling enrollments throughout the year afford some extra flexibility characteristic of many CBE models. A major CBE selling point for students is acceleration through their courses. Rather than following a shared class pace, students spend less time on the areas they’ve already mastered and more time focusing on their areas of weakness. If you want your programs to allow for acceleration, you may also want to consider your course delivery models. Online programs, for instance, may be more amenable to varied start dates and course acceleration.

Which Grading Style Will You Use?

Two common CBE grade reporting styles are pass/fail and a competency scale.

With a pass/fail grading system, passing indicates that students have proven the competencies for a course of study. Programs may have a minimum required score for formative assessments for each section of competencies to pass. On performance assessments, students are given a rubric outlining competencies and the activity requirements that meet each competency. Students must prove competency in each rubric section to pass. This grading style can be especially effective for certification programs or technical degrees.

A competency scale is another popular approach. Competency scales feature benchmarks for performance. For example, some use scales that rank competency with marks of:

  • Exemplary (E)
  • Proficient (P)
  • In-Progress/Basic Proficiency (IP/BP)
  • Limited Proficiency (LP), Not-Yet-Competent (NYC)
  • Insufficient Work Shown (IWS). 

Exemplary is a consistent performance that is above proficiency. Proficient is the mark students need to make to prove competence. Schools working on a scale may use a 4.0 system or letter grades to equate a GPA for graduates or students transferring to other institutions. This grading style can be appealing for programs that are preparing students for advanced degree programs.

Will You Change Your Tuition Model?

If you’re switching to a CBE model that allows course acceleration or varied start dates, you might consider changes to your tuition model. CBE programs often allow students to have a minimum enrollment requirement for competency units but don’t have a maximum for their term. If this is the case, consider how your tuition model might change. Some popular options are to charge flat-rate tuition for full-time or part-time enrollments, or charge by competency unit.

If you currently have a credit-hour-based tuition model, a simple conversion can help — one competency unit in your CBE program can equal one traditional credit hour. You may not need to change your tuition model if you’re following a standard term schedule or allowing accelerated courses with traditional start dates and competency-unit limits.

How Can CBE Work with Existing Programs? 

Many factors can influence the decision for program conversion, including standards and guidelines dictated by industry, institutional goals, or available resources for CBE transformation. Take these steps to determine how existing programs can align with CBE. 

  1. Examine industry standards. Some industries, such as nursing, now require that all bachelor’s and master’s programs convert to CBE. When an industry calls for a shift in program models, consider feeder or bridge programs, such as an LVN to RN associate degree, as well.
  2. Consider institutional goals. Your institutional goals can signal whether transitioning a few courses, a full program, or all your academic offerings to CBE is best. Some common goals that could impact your decision include preparing learners for industry certification exams or specific skills, moving to environments grounded in active learning, or making learning more equitable. 
  3. Talk to employers. Contact the companies and organizations that are hiring your graduates frequently. Determine if there is an interest for graduates to better demonstrate particular competencies. Knowing the gaps employers see will help identify programs that are a good fit for CBE. 

Shifting to a CBE model takes careful consideration of your course schedule, delivery model, grading, tuition model, and individual program goals. Assessing each factor carefully will help you determine your unique flavor of CBE and better set up your institution for CBE transformation success

Want to learn more about CBE transformation? Connect with our learning experience designers to start your CBE transformation