Home Press Releases & Statements New Materials, National Event Will Help Higher Education Understand The Potential Of Competency-Based Education Programs

New Materials, National Event Will Help Higher Education Understand The Potential Of Competency-Based Education Programs

July 9, 2015

National survey, fall conference and online resources will give educators and policymakers unprecedented levels of collaboration and information


NEW YORK – Several nonprofit and higher education organizations are collaborating to create new resources and opportunities in response to growing interest in competency-based education (CBE). This work includes the largest survey to date of institutions developing CBE programs and a national conference this fall to listen to the challenges and barriers faced by institutions and to help them learn more about what it takes to design high-quality programs that are competency-based.

The multi-pronged effort is led by Public Agenda, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and public engagement organization, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation. The effort responds to calls from institutions of higher education and policymakers for more resources and support to help guide the planning and development of high-quality competency-based degrees, certificates and other postsecondary credentials. The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AACU) is the Sponsoring Organization of Integrative Liberal Learning. The American Council on Education (ACE), the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) and EDUCAUSE are sponsors. The thought partners are the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and Quality Matters.

In addition to the survey and conference, the organizations are researching models, trends and gaps in knowledge around CBE and will organize the findings into a publicly available online source of information. For institutions that want to adopt CBE programs, the group is creating a set of research-based design elements of CBE programs and an online tool to help institutions build programs around those elements.

“As competency-based education gains momentum nationwide, there is a growing need for resources that will help interested colleges and universities develop thoughtful plans that lead to quality programs,” said Alison Kadlec, Senior Vice President and Director of Higher Education and Workforce Programs, Public Agenda. “This 15-month project was designed to produce a baseline understanding of the landscape and advances in competency-based education and help inform various higher education stakeholders. Through the project, Public Agenda hopes to improve the quality of collaboration and deliberation among institutions that are exploring CBE.”

Competency-based education aims to be a flexible way for students to get credit for what they know, build on their knowledge and skills by learning more at their own pace and earn high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials that help them in their lives and careers. Seen as having the potential to address the rising costs of higher education while helping to increase access, competency-based education programs may offer an alternative for learners who find that traditional instruction doesn’t meet their needs. CBE also can give employers a clear picture of what graduates are ready to do when they are hired.

The survey of institutions about their engagement in competency-based education is currently in the field and results are anticipated later this month. The purpose of this survey is to gather baseline data from institutional partners on CBE programs, gauge program levels of adoption of various CBE practices and design elements and measure how important those elements and practices are to individual institutions. Institutions not receiving a survey directly but that are engaged in CBE – from planning to scaling up – can complete the survey here.

“More institutions are taking steps to build competency-based programs. We need to learn from their experiences and share that information to advance quality competency-based programs,” said Laurie Dodge, Vice Provost, Brandman University. Dodge also chairs the Steering Committee for C-BEN, whose 30 institutions and four public systems collaborate to address CBE design and implementation challenges. “This in-depth survey will give us new details about the state of competency-based education practice in this country, what is working and where big open questions remain. A survey of this magnitude is a first for competency-based education.”

The survey results will be one of many highlights of CBExchange, a national conference September 30-October 2 at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort. The conference will bring together some of the nation’s leading CBE experts and thought leaders to share their lessons and help representatives of institutions of higher education think deeply about what is entailed in planning high-quality programs. About 300 participants are expected to attend the first-of-its-kind conference. Conference registration will be open soon and will be limited to the first 300 participants.

Also on track to be publicly available this fall are the competency-based education informational resource, CBE Landscape & Ecosystem Map, and the CBE Interactive Design Tool. Each resource will be housed on the C-BEN website and available for free to all institutions and others once they are finalized.

“Competency-based education offers a promising vision for the future of higher education at all levels, from certification programs to institutions that offer graduate degrees,” said Holly Morris, Director of Postsecondary Model Development and Adoption for EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association working to advance higher education through the use of information technology. “Technology has an important role to play in this field from supporting the infrastructure of institutions delivering CBE options to enabling the delivery of instruction. The survey will help us develop new technology-based solutions to enable the delivery of high-quality CBE programs.”


Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration.


Robert Johnston
703 508-9848

Vania Andre
212-686-6610, ext. 127