AEI has released a new series on Competency-Based Higher Education (CBE), titled Innovate and Evaluate: Expanding the Research Base for Competency-based Education.
The authors, Andrew P. Kelly and Rooney Columbus say, “Clearly, the benefits of expanding access to CBE could be substantial. But, what does existing research suggest about the likely effect of reforms to promote CBE? In this paper, we analyze 380 studies of postsecondary CBE and prior-learning assessment listed in the Department of Education’s Education Resources Information Center database. We reviewed each study’s methodology (i.e., quantitative or qualitative) and topic (i.e., program design, student characteristics, student outcomes, and policy environment).”
Some main points of the report include the following:
Competency-based education awards academic credit based on what students can prove they have learned rather than the amount of time spent in class.
The model has received substantial attention from higher education leaders and policymakers, yet we still cannot answer many basic questions: Who enrolls in CBE programs? How much do they cost? How do their student outcomes compare with other, more traditional programs?
This paper finds that most of the 380 journal articles examined use a qualitative rather than quantitative methodology and focus on questions of design and best practices rather than evaluation. Quantitative research exploring student characteristics or student outcomes was uncommon as were studies comparing student outcomes in CBE with traditional postsecondary programs.
Given the interest in and activity surrounding CBE, there is a significant opportunity to build on this evidence base. Researchers should partner with CBE providers to study important questions that can inform decision making by policymakers and institutional leaders.