As our students become more diverse in age, experience, and goals, we in the higher education community must take notice so that we can offer more diverse ways to serve and support them. Competency-based education (CBE) is one increasingly popular and promising delivery model for serving a wide range of students. These programs allow students to progress in their education based on mastery of skills and competencies, rather than simply hours spent in a classroom. Some competency-based programs have been shown to improve degree completion, reduce costs to students, and better align learning outcomes with the marketplace and society.
In July 2014, the Department of Education announced the Competency-Based Education experiment, which allowed institutions to access a new disbursement method for federal student aid in self-paced CBE programs. In September of this year, we issued extensive guidance for institutions participating in the experiment. Today, I am excited to announce an expansion of the Department’s Competency-Based Education experiment.
This modification of the original experiment is a response to feedback that we have heard from the field. Some institutions have indicated that they plan to go beyond charging tuition based on courses or even based on competencies, and instead charge tuition on a subscription basis. This means students can learn as quickly and as much as they are able to, without paying for additional courses in the same subscription period. This innovative model has tremendous potential to reduce costs and enable more students to access and succeed in higher education.
The expansion we are announcing today will permit more flexibility for subscription delivery models in which schools charge students a flat fee for a period of time, offering the benefits described above. Under this model, institutions would disburse Title IV aid based on the student’s anticipated enrollment for the subscription period rather than requiring completion of a specific number of competencies before subsequent disbursements are made. More details about this expansion are published in a notice in the Federal Register.
We hope that, with this expansion, the competency-based education experiment will provide even more opportunities, both for the field and for the wide range of students we aim to serve.
Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.