Competency-based Education at Ohio Colleges

A Quick Look at Competency-based Education in Ohio
Friday, April 20, 2018

A partnership between Columbus State Community College and Sinclair Community College is the result of an Ohio Department of Higher Education Innovation Grant awarded in 2016. 


The purpose of the partnership is to adopt and expand a competency-based education (CBE) model to improve academic and economic success for students. Under the CBE model, students receive credit not as a function of how much time they spend studying a subject, but based on demonstrations and assessments of their learning.


To get a better view of how the new network is building awareness and understanding of CBE across Ohio, we received insight from Katie O’Shea, Workforce Innovation Senior Consultant at Columbus State Community College, and Christina Amato, CBE Program Manager at Sinclair Community College. Over the past year, Columbus State and Sinclair have been working together on an ODHE Innovation Grant to emphasize CBE across their campuses. 


CBE can be implemented using several different models along a broad continuum, from those that embed elements of CBE into traditional university programs, to those that are highly disruptive and force a re-examination of all university functions.


How easy is it to convert traditional courses to the CBE model?

O’Shea: Courses that are already fully online are the best candidates to convert to CBE. Columbus State is planning to convert two courses that are fully online as our first effort over the summer, and are moving two courses, which are currently face-to-face, into an online format, and then converting those to CBE over the summer and fall. Our understanding is that it’s a heavier lift to move a course from face-to-face to online, than it is to move a course that’s already online into a CBE format.


Amato: We have an excellent group of experienced faculty working on the CBE conversion, which results in a great experience and superior courses being developed. There are also always new challenges and adventures with each new program we develop. In an environment where students are moving in and out of courses at paces completely independent of one another, this is a huge challenge. We are currently exploring the use of technology to resolve this challenge, which would allow students at different places in a course to work with one another.


The CBE approach seems to be very student-specific. What practices are your institutions doing to cater to the needs of each student at an individual level?


O’Shea: Based on the work we have done to understand CBE models, we plan to take an approach that provides coaching to each student. This coaching will include a frequent and personal touch for students, checking in with them to track their plans, their progress, and any struggles they may have with non-academic questions. The courses themselves will be set up to allow students to move through curriculum at their own pace within a defined timeframe. This will allow students the flexibility to complete academic coursework at a pace and schedule that accommodates for the other commitments in their lives, including job and family commitments.  


Amato: CBE programs are by design student-centered. CBE program resources, coaches, and faculty are geared towards helping each student succeed according to their own goals and timelines for completion. Throughout their programs, CBE students receive individually tailored wraparound services, ranging from enrollment assistance and general academic advising, to in-course progress monitoring and career preparation. Further, the incorporation of course-based activities such as creating pacing plans and meeting progress milestones, facilitates personal interactions between CBE staff/faculty and students, and aids with on-time and accelerated completion. As a result of work in this grant, Sinclair CBE students now create a customized pace chart in every CBE course as a graded assignment. This empowers students to take ownership of their classroom experience, and also serves as a tool for faculty and coaches in understanding what progress students should be making in their CBE courses.


How has collaboration between Ohio’s campuses been valuable?


O’Shea: Our partnership with Sinclair has been extremely valuable. Although every institution will find their own path to implementation, having a knowledgeable, experienced partner who can share their approach, their lessons learned, and their successes makes a big difference. It has allowed our faculty to hear the details of CBE from Sinclair faculty, and our instructional designers to hear from Sinclair instructional designers, and our advisors and financial aid resources to hear from their Sinclair counterparts. The information sharing among peers has helped make the professional development sessions that Sinclair delivered more meaningful.  As we ramp up our CBE implementation efforts, we look forward to collaborating with other Ohio institutions through the ODHE Steering Committee and beyond.


Amato: Collaboration between Ohio campuses is critical. CBE is more than a curriculum project—it impacts nearly all aspects of university and college operations. Bringing campuses together allows all institutional experts and stakeholders to grapple with big challenges together. eLearning experts, financial aid and student services experts, academic advisors, institutional researchers and IT staff all have a place to bring highly technical and complex questions, and engage with their own peers. Without a broad coalition of institutions sharing best practices and challenges, this could not happen.


There is plenty of interest in CBE among the colleges and universities in Ohio; 21 out of 37 public institutions are in the process of planning or implementing CBE programs. Of the colleges and universities that reported they were not currently planning or implementing a CBE program, the vast majority indicated that they may consider developing a CBE program within the next five years. 


For more information regarding competency-based education in Ohio, check out the 9th Report on the Condition of Higher Education in Ohio.