Competency-Based Education (CBE)


Traditional education has benefited millions of students – preparing them for college, jobs and careers – and it continues to do so. However, in recent years, there has been a growing trend of higher education institutions considering an alternative, competency-based education (CBE), to serve the needs of nontraditional or underserved adult students. CBE is self-paced and personalized. It provides flexible schedules and pathways to meet individual needs. The time necessary to complete a CBE program can be reduced as it takes prior learning, prior knowledge and a mastery of competencies into consideration, rather than seat time or the number of hours spent in class.

The Ohio Department of Higher Education released a report in 2017 focusing on competency-based education (CBE) in Ohio which recommended the creation of an Ohio CBE Network of institutions interested in learning more about and/or developing and scaling CBE programs. Today the Ohio CBE Network with representatives from 26 Ohio public institutions of higher education serves as a forum for quarterly meetings and activities.

The Ohio CBE Network Steering Committee encompasses members with diverse roles and positions at the campuses including deans, professors, alternative program and e-learning managers, provosts, registrar, and director of financial aid. Two staff members from ODHE along with representatives from the Ohio Association of Community Colleges and the Inter-University Council serve as ex-officio members to support and assist the network as needed. The Steering Committee strives to create practical tools for colleges and universities interested in pursuing competency-based education to include a network of expert practitioners, and a repository of resources and best practices for CBE development, implementation, and sustainment. This website will serve as a place to share find information about CBE.

Questions and Answers

1. What are the advantages of CBE for students?

One benefit that competency-based education provides for students is the flexibility that they need to balance work, family and college.  Another benefit for students is that some students may be able to complete and master specific competencies faster if they already have some knowledge, skills and abilities from some previous college or work experiences. This could also lead to completing the program sooner which could cost the student less.  

2. What are the advantages of CBE for employers?

One advantage of CBE is that it can help to alleviate employer concerns that students are not graduating with the knowledge and skills needed for success in the workplace. Competencies are typically identified by disciplinary faculty working in collaboration with business and industry.  And since CBE requires mastery of the competencies, students graduating from CBE programs should be well prepared to enter a job and career and to meet the expectations of their employers.

3. What are the advantages schools see to adopt CBE?

CBE offers several benefits or advantages to Ohio’s institutions of higher education. It is common for college and university personnel to see students who want to attend the institution, but cannot find the time or money to do so. They may have family responsibilities and/or are working at lower paying jobs just to make ends meet. In addition, colleges also encounter many students who are attending the institution, but are struggling to complete their program (again because of the amount of time it is taking or the cost).

These same colleges and universities are very aware that the number of Ohio’s working age adults who will need to have some sort of postsecondary credential are considering new options to encourage more students to attend and graduate in order to meet future workforce needs. Competency-based education offers one such alternative as CBE focuses on what students know and are able to do. Student progress is not measured by the amount of time spent in a classroom. Instead, student progress is measured by actual demonstration of competencies — competencies that have been developed in partnership with business and industry. And, because CBE programs are often offered online, they fit the lives of today’s students, more than 75% of whom are either over age 25 or are going to school part-time while attempting to balance work, family and college. By offering CBE programs, institutions may enable more students to complete their programs and acquire these much needed postsecondary credentials to secure future jobs.

4. What is the status of moving to CBE in central Ohio colleges and universities today?

Based on the Ohio CBE Network meetings thus far, the members’ interest and enthusiasm seems to be evolving from ‘what is CBE’ to ‘this may be a real possibility.’ This new perspective seems to be consistent across the steering committee as the members discuss and learn more about CBE.  Members have had opportunities to hear from several Ohio institutions staff about their experiences with CBE.  They have been successfully implementing CBE programs and previously faced the same questions, concerns and challenges. They have willingly shared what they have learned.

In the fall of 2020, AIR distributed a national survey and ODHE partnered with AIR to encourage Ohio Higher Education institutions to complete the survey and AIR provided ODHE with a summary of the National and Ohio results. Twenty-eight Ohio public institutions participated; 14 colleges and 14 universities.  In addition to Sinclair’s CBE programs, Lorain County Community College, the University of Toledo and Youngstown all reported that they were currently offering CBE programs. Those who reported CBE programs reported a total of 26 programs; 20 undergraduate and 6 graduate, Program disciplines offered: Business administration, Computer/information science, nursing, liberal arts, criminal justice, unmanned aircraft systems, manufacturing.

5. What are the biggest challenges for schools to adopt CBE?

One of the first challenges is making sure there is a common understanding of what CBE is among all stakeholders within the college or university and surrounding community, including faculty, students, administrators, business office personnel and local employers. Other challenges are: determining and acquiring sufficient funding, development of the CBE program curriculum and making any necessary changes or additions to policy and procedures to the traditional way of doing business.  Essentially, much of this comes down to time and money.

6. How can they overcome the challenges?

Several of the colleges have received grants for developing their CBE programs in the past and may be able to provide information to other institutions regarding where and how they might find and pursue similar grant opportunities. In addition, the national C-BEN network and the colleges throughout the country are willing to share what they have learned and developed, including how they were funded.