ON THE AGENDA | MAY 9TH, 2016 | Erin Knepler and ZOE MINTZ

Higher Education Engagement and Collaboration in the Land of Enchantment

C-BEN's Spring Convening served to pivot and accelerate into new work for the competency-based education network.

With the unprecedented amount of pressure it's under, it's clear that our nation's higher education system is due for change. Escalating costs are painful for students, families, taxpayers and schools alike. And the traditional college schedule doesn't work for many modern students.

Yet as we experiment with new ways to structure and deliver learning in higher education, we need to remember who's on the receiving end of these reforms: students. Changes to the higher education system could have real consequences for their future and, consequently, for our country's economic health.

It's important for our higher education system to adapt and change, but it's equally important for those changes to happen in a space that protects students and taxpayers and helps institutions learn from each other. One example of such a space is the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), for which Public Agenda is a supporting partner.

C-BEN was established in 2013 to help colleges and universities work together on common challenges to building high-quality, sustainable competency-based education (CBE) models. Competency-based education (CBE) is one of the major innovations in the higher education field. CBE is an education model that measures students' learning based on their demonstrated level of competency rather than by the amount of time they spend in a classroom.

Over the last two years, representatives from C-BEN institutions have rolled up their sleeves and participated in several in-person convenings and collaborative work cycles aimed at surfacing shared elements of quality practice across diverse CBE models and programs.

At the end of April, our Higher Education & Workforce Programs team coordinated the C-BEN Spring 2016 Convening in idyllic Santa Fe, New Mexico - fittingly known as the “land of enchantment.” C-BEN institutional members, representing 30 institutions and four public systems that serve 82 campuses gathered to continue their collaborative work. Specifically, participants discussed how to demonstrate the outcomes of CBE programs.

There are three questions that guide C-BEN convenings, and C-BEN’s work generally. They are: What are the common features of high-quality CBE program design? How do we know that assessment of student learning - the engine of CBE - is valid, reliable and robust? What are the back-office systems and processes that need to be in place for CBE programs to become sustainable and scalable?

C-BEN was designed as a community in which institutions themselves do the work of building knowledge through collaboration of various kinds. Its work has therefore been dynamic and evolving. C-BEN is at an exciting moment in its development, and the Santa Fe convening hit this home.

The convening was a mix of expert presentations on important topics like how to effectively assess CBE programs and on the term "regular and substantive interaction." This confusing phrase dates back to the Higher Education Act of 1965 and attempts to characterize the intensity of interaction between faculty and students. Institutions need to understand the meaning of this term because their ability to participate in the federal financial aid program is dependent upon the regularity and type of interaction between faculty and students.

The other focus for C-BEN’s Spring Convening was hearing from institutional members on how data are being used to build and grow their CBE programs. Throughout the two-day convening, institutional representatives gave quick and informative presentations that highlighted their CBE programs, with specific attention to program pieces that aligned with CBE design elements. C-BEN Institutions were able to show how their CBE programs were doing compared to a traditional offering of the same program at their institution; some were even able to boast superior retention and completion rates!

The C-BEN Spring Convening was also an opportunity to celebrate the release of three important guides for the field as well as the C-BEN Year 2 Report, which highlights several considerable accomplishments for the network and important happenings in the field of competency-based education. The three guides include:

Understanding the Academic Calendar: A Resource Guide, which helps higher-education professionals better understand definitions and terms related to the competency-based academic calendar.

Questions Financial Aid Professionals Should Ask About Competency-Based Education Programs: A Resource Guide, which aims to help financial aid professionals address important questions and best support competency-based innovation on their campuses.

Questions Information Technology Professionals Should Ask About Competency-Based Education Programs: A Resource Guide will help ensure that institutions have the technological systems needed to launch and scale sustainable CBE programs on their campuses.

The preparation and publication of these informative resources capped off an incredibly productive winter season for C-BEN institutions and partners. The Spring Convening served to pivot and accelerate into new work.

As pressure mounts to showcase the outcomes of CBE programs for students and institutions, C-BEN is responding nimbly under the leadership of new Executive Director, Charla Long. C-BEN is committed to giving its members not only the tools to implement a solid CBE program, but also the tools for discussing, analyzing and improving upon practices before an expanding audience.

Public Agenda continues to help provide C-BEN with engagement resources to promote this mission. We are incredibly excited to see what comes out of C-BEN over the next few months. Stay tuned!


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