Making the Case for Competency-Based Education: Early Lessons From the Field

Matthew Soldner

As competency-based education (CBE) grows in prominence in higher education, leaders of CBE programs will be asked to demonstrate how students in those programs “stack up” against students in traditional non-CBE programs across an array of outcomes, from learning to time-to-degree and affordability. This brief outlines seven considerations for CBE program leaders who want to begin gathering and using rigorous evidence as they build a case for CBE for internal and external audiences:

  • Create clear value statements: What were we trying to improve or address when we designed this program? How does addressing those issues help my institution meet its mission with integrity?
  • Bolster research partnerships: Who at my institution is skilled in using evidence to improve decision making? Who at my institution is expert in the types of data most related to my program’s value propositions?
  • Clearly describe your program: A clear description helps the audience understand how likely it is that your findings will generalize to the CBE models they have or are considering adopting, and bound expectations about what findings the audience might expect to see.
  • Identify research questions: Is the question straightforward and easily understood? Will answering the question matter to stakeholders? Are the data needed to answer the question, including the outcomes we hope to observe, available from campus data systems?
  • Create valid comparison groups: Clarifying questions concerning programs are designed to help ensure that program-to-program comparisons are fundamentally fair. The similarity of students in both CBE and comparison programs is also important, and can be verified quantitatively.
  • Use appropriate comparison methods: The best choice for contrasting outcomes should be determined by what is feasible given available resources, standards of evidence acceptable to each institution, and what is possible based on the data already collected.
  • Make sense of the results and communicate the story simply: Although the full process of using rigorous evaluation to build a case could take weeks or months,  stakeholders often have only a few minutes to understand the findings, so make sure the story that is told is simple, accurate, and compelling.
Kelle Parsons
Principal Researcher