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    Competency-based education is all the rage: What is it?
    blog entry posted April 7, 2015 by Richard E Lillie, tagged research, teaching 
    997 Views, 9 Comments
    Competency-based education is all the rage: What is it?
    intro text:

    In his blog "OLDaily," Stephen Downes referenced an article published in The Tennessean (4/07/2015) titled Competency-based education is all the rage:  What is it?  The article was written by Kimberly K. Estep, Chancellor of WGU Tennessee (Western Governors University).


    Estep provides a great definition of competency-based education (CBE).  She provides an interesting example of how CBE works at WGU Tennessee.


    I'm interested in finding out whether your college or university has adopted any type of CBE programs, particularly for accounting.  If you have adopted a CBE for accounting or are considering doing this, please REPLY to this posting telling us about the program.


    Best wishes,


    Rick Lillie


    Rick Lillie, MAS, Ed.D., CPA (Retired)

    Associate Professor of Accounting, Emeritus

    CSUSB, CBPA, Department of Accounting & Finance

    5500 University Parkway, JB-547

    San Bernardino, CA.  92407-2397



    Telephone:  (909) 537-5726

    Skype (Username):  ricklillie





    • Robert E Jensen

      Arizona State's Freshman Year MOOCs Open to All With Final Examinations for Inexpensive Credits

      "Arizona State and edX Will Offer an Online Freshman Year, Open to All," by Charles Huckabee, Chronicle of Higher Education, April 24, 2015 ---

      Arizona State University is joining with the MOOC provider edX in a project that it says “reimagines the freshman year” and opens a new low-cost, low-risk path to a college degree for students anywhere in the world.

      The project, called the Global Freshman Academy, will offer a set of eight courses designed to fulfill the general-education requirements of a freshman year at Arizona State at a fraction of the cost students typically pay, and students can begin taking courses without going through the traditional application process, the university said in a news release on Wednesday. Because the classes are offered as massive open online courses, or MOOCs, there is no limit on how many students can enroll.

      . . .

      The courses to be offered through the Global Freshman Academy are being designed and will be taught by leading scholars at Arizona State. “These courses are developed to their rigorous standards,” Adrian Sannier, chief academic officer for EdPlus at ASU, said in the release. “Course faculty are committed to ensuring their students understand college-level material so that they can be prepared to successfully complete college.”

      Students who pass a final examination in a course will have the option of paying a fee of no more than $200 per credit hour to get college credit for it.

      Mr. Agarwal and Mr. Crow are scheduled to formally announce the project at a conference in Washington on Thursday.


      Jensen Comments and Questions
      The real test is how well these credits are accepted by other universities for transfer credit. It probably will not be an issue for graduate school admission since there are three more years of more traditional onsite or online credits. But it could be a huge issue for example when a student takes the first year of ASU MOOC credits and then tries to have these credits accepted by other universities (such as TCU) that still resist accepting any online courses for transfer credit.

      What are the main differences between MOOC online credits and traditional online credits such as those documented at the following site?

      For example, at many universities these days there are multiple sections of a course where some sections are onsite and some are online. Often they are taught by the same instructor. The online sections are usually as small or even smaller than the onsite sections because online instructors often have more student interactions such as in instant messaging not available to onsite students ---

      These are the following obvious differences between MOOC online credits and traditional online credits.

      • The huge difference between the ASU MOOC year of courses and the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School MOOC year of courses is that the Wharton School MOOC courses are not available for credit (and therefore are free). The ASU MOOC courses are available for credits that will not be totally free, although they will be available at greatly discounted prices.

      • MOOC courses are open to everybody in the world and have no admission standards.

      • These are not intended to be equivalent to  advanced placement (AP) credits where students eventually  fill in course requirements with other more advanced courses. The ASU MOOC courses have no requirements to earn substitute credits. Universities do vary with respect to substitution requirements for AP credit, and many do not require taking added replacement courses --- 
        I suspect that at some universities the ASU MOOCs will be similar to AP credits except that the competency-examination process is different.

      • MOOC courses generally have no limits to class size.

      • MOOC courses do not have prerequisites such as a MOOC calculus course or linear algebra that has no prerequisites.

      • MOOC courses are generally very large such that student interactions online with instructors and/or other students are virtually non-existent.

      • MOOC courses generally do not have graded writing assignments such as term papers.

      • MOOC courses do not have graded homework.

      • MOOC courses do not have graded team projects, whereas team projects are common in smaller traditional online courses.

      • MOOC courses generally do not have class attendance requirements or class participation requirements even though they generally do have classes. The first MOOC course ever offered was an artificial intelligence course at Stanford University where students enrolled in the course on campus has the option of not attending class. Some faculty feel like some course courses should have required course attendance and course participation.


      The bottom line is that it appears that the ASU freshman year MOOC course credits will be little more than competency-based credits. This will be controversial since many faculty in higher education feel like credits in general education core  courses should  entail class participation, including first-year core courses. For example, at Trinity University there is a first-year seminar that all new students take in very small classes that require a lot of class participation in discussions of assigned readings and the writing of term papers. I think some sections of this seminar don't even have examinations. I did not have examinations when I taught a section of this seminar for two years.

      In traditional large lectures courses on campus students typically are broken out into accompanying recitation sections intended for class participation and interactions with a recitation instructor.

      Jensen Note
      I never anticipated competency-based credits in the first-year of college. I think these will be wildly popular in advance-level training courses such as a CPA examination review course in the final (fifth) year of an accounting program. Using competency-based courses for first-year general education courses is more controversial.

      Bob Jensen's threads on competency-based credits ---


    • Robert E Jensen

      This is a very good article on the major issues of competency-based assessment of learning
      "Performance-Based Assessment," by  Steven Mintz, Inside Higher Ed, April 29, 2015 ---

      . . .

      In contrast, classroom discussions, debates, and case studies tend to emphasize analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Students are typically asked to offer a critique or assessment, identify bias, present a judgment, or advance a novel interpretation.

      Performance-based assessment offers a valuable alternative (or supplement) to the standard forms of student evaluation. Performance-based assessment requires students to solve a real-world problem or to create perform, or produce something with real-world application. It allows an instructor to assess how well students are able to use essential skills and knowledge, think critically and analytically, or develop a project.  It also offers a measure of the depth and breadth of a student’s proficiencies.

      Performance-based assessment can, in certain instances, simply be an example of what Bloom’s Taxonomy calls application. Thus, a student or a team might be asked to apply knowledge and skills to a particular task or problem. 

      But performance-based assessment can move beyond Bloom’s Taxonomy when students are engaged in a project that requires them to display creativity and that results in an outcome, project, or performance that is genuinely new. The more sophisticated performance assessments involve research, planning, design, development, implementation, presentation, and, in the case of team-based projects, collaboration.  

      If performance-based assessments are to be fair, valid, and reliable, it is essential that there is an explicit rubric that lays out the criteria for evaluation in advance. It is also helpful to ask students to keep a log or journal to document the project’s development and record their reflections on the developmental process.

      The most commonly used assessments – the midterm and final or the term paper – have an unpleasant consequence. Reliance on a small number of high stakes assessments encourages too many students to coast through the semester and to pull all-nighters when their grade is on the line. This may inadvertently encourage a party culture.

      In stark contrast, performance-based assessment offers a way to ensure that evaluation is truly a learning experience, one that engages students and that measures the full range of their knowledge and proficiencies.

      Steven Mintz is Executive Director of the University of Texas System's Institute for Transformational Learning and Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. Harvard University Press will publish his latest book, The Prime of Life: A History of Modern Adulthood, next month.

      Bob Jensen's threads on competency-based credits ---

    • Robert E Jensen

      In Norway, she said, "universities exchange papers for grading." Objectivity is compromised by mere humanity. Educators who engage personally with their students are psychologically vulnerable to bias in grading.
      Kathleen Tarr ---

      USA Department of Education:  Guidance on Competency-Based Education
      Inside Higher Ed, September 23, 2015 ---

      The U.S. Department Education said Tuesday it is poised to release an extensive reference guide for institutions that are participating in an experiment on competency-based education. Since that project was begun last year, the department said it became clear that more guidance was needed -- for both colleges and accrediting agencies.

      The department has yet to release the document publicly, but plans to post it at this link ---

      “We believe that this guide will offer tremendous support for both experienced and new competency-based education providers as they implement this experiment,” Ted Mitchell, the under secretary of education, said in a written statement. “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.”

      Bob Jensen's threads on competency-based education ---

      Bob Jensen's threads on assessment ---


    • Robert E Jensen

      "How a 40-Year-Old Idea Became Higher Education’s Next Big Thing," by Dan Barrett, Chronicle of Higher Education, October 28, 2015 ---

      . . .

      These pressures are intersecting with another mounting concern: educational quality. Together, these forces are feeding an unusual bipartisan consensus, and they are prompting higher-education leaders to take a fresh look at an old idea: competency-based education. It allows students to make progress at their own pace by demonstrating what they know and can do instead of hewing to the timeline of the semester. While this model has long been used to expand access and lower costs, particularly for adult students, it is now attracting attention as a way to shore up academic rigor.

      But this surge in interest has also sparked questions. How effective a method is it for students with varying levels of preparedness, or is it really only suited for the academically talented who can learn on their own? Can it assure educational quality, or is it just being offered to the disadvantaged as a cut-rate version of the full college experience?

      The story of how competency-based education has become the latest Next Big Thing after being around for four decades is a tale of timing, of money and politics, and of shifting academic norms.

      Advocates for competency-based learning have seen Big Things get hyped in the past, only to flame out. Still, they hope that this model of learning can ultimately achieve a grand goal: staking a claim to, defining, and substantiating quality in higher education.

      Just maybe, the new stage of development that Mr. Jessup envisioned decades ago may finally be arriving.

      A generation or two after Mr. Jessup’s prediction, a different sort of challenge confronted higher education. The end of the Vietnam War and broadening opportunities for women meant that adults who were older than the core demographic of 18- to 21-year-olds were flocking to college. But with jobs and families, they did not have the luxury of spending hours each week in a classroom.

      Competency-based education as a concept began in that era, the 1970s, with programs emerging to serve those older students. Places like Excelsior College (then Regents College), Thomas Edison State College, DePaul University’s School for New Learning, and the State University of New York’s Empire State College were among the first to offer such programs. They wanted to expand access.

      Then, as state support for higher education dropped and tuition and student-loan debt rose, so did concerns about cost.

      Those two goals, access and cost, have dominated years of efforts to remake higher education. Now, a third goal — educational quality — is driving change.

      Competency-based learning may be able to achieve all three goals, say its supporters. And, they add, it is quality that matters most. "Its potential is for a much higher level of quality and a greater attention to rigor," says Alison Kadlec, senior vice president of Public Agenda, a nonprofit organization that is playing a leading role in the growth of this model.

      "The worst possible outcome," she said, "would be that competency-based education becomes a subprime form of learning."

      Continued in article

      Bob Jensen's threads  on competency based learning ---

    • Robert E Jensen

      Competency-Based Learning ---

      "Measuring Competency," by Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed, November 25, 2015 ---

      Southern New Hampshire U's College for America releases a promising early snapshot of the general-education learning and skills of students who are enrolled in a new form of competency-based education.

      A preliminary snapshot of the academic skills of students who are enrolled in a new, aggressive form of competency-based education is out, and the results look good.

      Southern New Hampshire University used an outside testing firm to assess the learning and skills in areas typically stressed in general education that were achieved by a small group of students who are halfway through an associate degree program at the university’s College for America, which offers online, self-paced, competency-based degrees that do not feature formal instruction and are completely untethered from the credit-hour standard.

      The university was the first to get approval from the U.S. Department of Education and a regional accreditor for its direct-assessment degrees. A handful of other institutions have since followed suit. College for America currently enrolls about 3,000 students, most of whom are working adults. It offers associate degrees -- mostly in general studies with a concentration in business -- bachelor’s degrees and undergraduate certificates.

      To try to kick the tires in a public way, College for America used the Proficiency Profile from the Educational Testing Service. The relatively new test assesses students in core skill areas of critical thinking, reading, writing and mathematics. It also gives “context-based” subscores on student achievement in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The results could be notable because skeptics of competency-based education fear the model might not result in adequate learning in these areas.

      Continued in article

      There are other competency-based learning programs around the USA and Canada that are mentioned in Bob Jensen's threads on competency-based learning ---


    • Robert E Jensen

      Competency-Based Learning (where teachers don't selectively assign grades) ---

      Western Governors University (with an entire history of competency-based learning) ----
      Especially note the Business Administration (including Accounting) degree programs

      From a Chronicle of Higher Education Newsletter on November 3, 2016

      Over the past 20 years, Western Governors University has grown into a formidable competency-based online education provider. It’s on just its second president, Scott D. Pulsipher, a former Silicon Valley executive, who stopped by our offices yesterday.

      WGU has graduated more than 70,000 students, from all 50 states. But a key part of the institution’s growth strategy is local, using its affiliations with participating states (not that all the partnerships start smoothly, mind you). There are six of them, and more growth is on the way; Mr. Pulsipher says WGU is in serious discussions to expand into as many as five more states — he declines to name them — at a pace of one or two per year.

      The university's main focus remains students, he says. One example is an effort to minimize student loans. Through better advising, students are borrowing, on average, about 20 percent less than they did three years ago, amounting to savings of about $3,200. “Humans make better decisions,” Mr. Pulsipher says, “when they have more information.” —Dan Berrett

      2016 Bibliography on Competency-Based Education and Assessment ---

      Bob Jensen's threads on competency-based learning ---

    • Robert E Jensen

      From a Chronicle of Higher Education Newsletter on November 27, 2018

      I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week:

      Thoughts on the rise of the mega-university

      A few weeks ago, when I wrote about Southern New Hampshire University, I called it a forerunner of a new breed of institution, the nonprofit mega-university. Now I have a confession to make: I’m still not exactly sure what that means, or what it could lead to.

      But it’s obvious to me, and to others I spoke with in the course of reporting that article, that the emergence of mega-universities — institutions like Southern New Hampshire and Western Governors University, with big online footprints, a heavy reliance on adjuncts, and standardized curricular models — will change how higher education is provided.

      Other colleges, with smaller online programs, are already feeling the pricing pressure and competitive impact, and those that have yet to enter that arena could find it harder and harder to get any traction. In the words of Russell Poulin, director of policy and analysis for the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, “The University of Whatever doing one more M.B.A., that’s going to be hard.”

      “Hard,” Poulin argues, shouldn’t mean that every University of Whatever has to throw in the online towel. But it probably means they’ll need to plan with intentionality. As Poulin puts it, a Walmart coming into a small community will often crush local retailers, but “local restaurants can thrive next to chains” by being more attuned to local demands and tastes. Colleges will have to find the educational equivalents.

      In the future, Poulin contends, colleges won’t be able to just opt out of online education. “It will be an expected option of a modern college or university,” he says, even if it takes on a different form than the model the behemoths offer.

      Mega-universities could do more than change the market for students or alter the nature of faculty roles. That’s where things could get even more interesting.

      As the author and higher-education consultant Michael B. Horn suggests, institutions like Southern New Hampshire and Western Governors “could help change the definition of quality” for online education, but only if they can show that their students are getting consistently great outcomes. “That,” Horn says, “would be a good game changer for the field.”

      I think Horn is onto something. One of the biggest missed opportunities from the era when big for-profit universities dominated the online-education scene was their failure to capitalize on all the learning data they were collecting from their students. By dint of their size and sophistication, they had rich sets of data and, even several years ago, at least some rudimentary tools to analyze it.

      Yet for the most part, those colleges used the information for their own proprietary purposes rather than to demonstrate, in any transparent or consistent manner, that their education models were effective. (I can imagine many readers thinking, “They never showed that because they couldn’t.” I’ll stop short of saying that. But if they had the data to prove otherwise, few shared it.)

      It remains to be seen how the big nonprofit online players will approach matters. But as you might have sensed from the Southern New Hampshire story, I see a heartening early sign in the reporting on student outcomes that Western Governors has adopted. In its
      annual report, the university, which now enrolls more than 100,000 students, published a chart showing trends in its six-year graduation rate and a comparison to a national-average graduation rate for nonselective, nonprofit institutions.

      That may not be a perfect measure. But as WGU’s president, Scott Pulsipher, told me, “even an imperfect measure, consistently tracked,” is valuable because it will show improvements or failings.

      Pulsipher told me that he believes it’s important to report data on student outcomes. “You can buy awareness,” he said, “but you earn reputation.”

      The things WGU measures — graduation rates, students’ debt loads upon graduation, salary boosts — are valuable but not enough. And online or not, “good” measures of academic quality are still all too elusive. (For his part, Paul LeBlanc, Southern New Hampshire’s president, says one goal he sets for his institution is that “people leave us in better financial condition than when they came in.”)

      I wish I had better answers. Maybe you do. With the higher-ed landscape becoming increasingly dominated by big online operators, what are the (realistic!) measures of quality that they could be assessing and highlighting? Any other great examples of institutions that have found a way to demonstrate quality? Please send me your thoughts, and I’ll share what I hear.

      As Horn puts it, we’re still “in the early innings” of the mega-university era. Certainly, institutions like SNHU and WGU could stumble, or, as with the British Open University (perhaps the first nonprofit mega-university, which was
      once a source of inspiration for American colleges exploring distance education), fall victim to internal and outside forces and suffer enrollment and reputational declines. But I doubt this trend will reverse itself, unless of course the institutions fail to step up to the challenge. In other words, and with apologies to Voltaire (and Spiderman), with great size comes great responsibility. The question is: How well will they take it on?

      Continued in article

      Bob Jensen's threads on competency testing for academic credit ---

    • Robert E Jensen

      Papa John's has offered to pay the tuition of around 20,000 employees enrolled in Purdue University Global's online undergraduate and graduate-degree programs ---
      Jensen Comment
      This follows a succession of fast-food company announcements of free college benefits to employees, including those of Starbucks, McDonalds, and Taco Bell. Most are online degree programs, but I think McDonalds will also pay local onsite tuition. Walmart is among the earliest major companies to cover tuition for college degrees. Large accounting firms for years have had much smaller and more-focused degree programs for employees that entail more extensive leaves from jobs to enroll in on-line campus courses. Also in this competitive market for top recruits it's increasingly common to offer new employees student-loan repayment assistance.

      Bob Jensen's threads on distance education alternatives ---

      Mega-Universities (unexpectedly) on the Rise ---

      Liberty, Southern New Hampshire, Grand Canyon, Western Governors, and a few other universities have found a new way to play the game that many colleges are losing. Could they one day lay claim to a significant share of the nation’s new college students?

      . . .

      At a time when many colleges are struggling with shrinking enrollment and tighter budgets, Southern New Hampshire is thriving on a grand scale, and it’s not alone. Liberty, Grand Canyon, and Western Governors Universities, along with a few other nonprofit institutions, have built huge online enrollments and national brands in recent years by subverting many of traditional higher education’s hallmarks. Western Governors has 88,585 undergraduates, according to U.S. Education Department data, more than the top 14 universities in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings combined.

      Jensen Comment
      Especially note the graph of enrollment trends at Arizona State, Grand Canyon, Liberty, Southern New Hampshire, and Western Governors.
      The most important key to success, in my viewpoint, is the attraction of top students coupled with tougher admission standards that are key to academic reputations. If admission standards are not tough reputation depends upon academic standards for flunking out low performers. If you graduate low performers you can soon develop a reputation for being a diploma mill ---  which is the fate of most of the for-profit universities that have closed or will soon close.

      Of course the attraction of reputable faculty is important, especially in research (R1) universities, but often the top research faculty are not even teaching undergraduates. What the Mega-Universities have to concentrate is on hiring and nurturing of great teachers who are experts in their disciplines. This will increasingly change accreditation standards and enforcement.

      Arizona State University is somewhat unique in that it seems to want to be both a reputable R1 research university (with distinguished researchers) along with a diversity of missions such as providing Starbucks' funded degrees to any Starbucks employee (including part-time employees) who want to do the academic work for free.

      Note that religion is no key to success in and of itself. Many religious colleges are on the verge of bankruptcy while Liberty University enrollments soar.

      For me the greatest surprise is how competency testing seems to not be the kiss of death that I predicted in this era where students are constantly brown nosing teachers for grades and seeking leniency based upon race and age. Both WGU and Southern New Hampshire are noted for grading based upon competency testing ---