Guidance for Competency Based Education Experimental Site Released

The Obama Administration has worked steadily to increase access to and completion of high quality degrees for students of all ages and backgrounds. One specific thrust has been to remove barriers that stand in the way of innovation in higher education, including those that prevent promising new educational models from expanding. Competency based education (CBE) is one example of a promising new delivery model with the potential to improve degree completion, reduce costs to students and improve transparency and alignment of learning outcomes to the needs of employers and society. And the field is growing – recently, a survey suggested that as many as 600 postsecondary institutions in the United States are currently designing or implementing CBE programs.

In 2014, the Department of Education launched three experiments under the Experimental Sites Initiative – Competency-Based Education, Limited Direct Assessment, and Prior Learning Assessment – as an opportunity to learn more about this and related delivery model and to experiment with Title IV disbursement models designed to incent student achievement and student success. Among those, the Competency-Based Education experiment provided the most expansive regulatory waivers and modifications, and in the time since that experiment was announced, it has become clear that additional detail and guidance from the Department of Education regarding that experiment would be helpful to both institutions and accrediting agencies.

I am delighted to say that we are ready to release the CBE Experiment Reference Guide for institutions participating in the CBE experiment. We believe that this Guide will offer tremendous support for both experienced and new CBE providers as they implement this experiment. We recognize that many of you were anticipating that the Guide would be released earlier this summer, but it was very important for us to have a high level of confidence that the guidance it contains is on very firm ground. The Guide can be located at

Additionally, by the end of this year, we will be issuing an expansion of the current CBE experiment. The CBE experiment was designed to offer institutions a new approach to financial aid disbursement in the hopes of incentivizing student success and cost reduction. Following the release of the 2014 Federal Register notice, we received additional feedback from institutions about the approach provided in the 2014 notice, and we have been working to respond to this feedback. When the expansion is released, we are confident that this experiment will be even more useful to the field, particularly to institutions using a subscription-based tuition model with their CBE programs. As part of the experimental site initiative, ED will be gathering significant data from the participating institutions to enable a rigorous evaluation of the impact of CBE programs on issues of completion, affordability and transparency of degrees.

As always, I encourage and welcome your comments, suggestions and feedback. We are eager to learn from these CBE experiments, and we remain committed to responsible innovation to enhance learning outcomes, lower cost and improve completion rates in higher education.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.


  1. The basic goal of a “liberal arts education” is to produce a good citizen, capable of independent, critical thinking.
    Unfortunately, we have drifted into thinking of college not as a metaphorical investment (to be a better, more capable person) but as a financial investment (something that will pay money).
    Here in the US, higher education is expensive, so the financial aspect is important. However, by primarily reporting cost and anticipated salary, you are reducing the role of colleges to jobs training. By contrast, if we were to evaluate European colleges, ROI becomes a minor factor, and not at all indicative of the quality of the institution.
    Unfortunately, I think the US emphasis on ROI has resulted in many people with college degrees who are nonetheless uneducated, in the sense of critical thinking. An educated populace is the foundation of a successful democracy, and I think our current political situation shows the lack.

  2. Am I missing the guidance document for CBE? The link provided seems to take me to information on Pell grants. Thanks!

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