The debates over competency-based higher education (CBE) has been going on for at least 5 years with a significant media coverage since President Obama and Arne Duncan pushed for outcome-based assessment of higher education, more transparency of student learning, flexibility and lower costs. However, before looking into the current situation of CBE in the American higher education, pros, cons and the challenges of its adaptation, let us look in the past to have a better understanding of what CBE is.
Kate Ford (2014), Director of Information and Research Analysis at the Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success, identifies several phases in the development of CBE in the U.S. with the first and second stages in 1920-1930swwwwww when scientific management was applied to the work roles and mastery learning models were developed. Caroline Miller (2015), Managing Editor at Pearson, also tracks CBE to 1920s but for another reason. She refers to the “practice of giving credit for prior learning ... to help war veterans [WWI] earn high school equivalency through competency-based exams” (Miller, 2015). I would argue, that CBE model was first developed in 1900s when “American society had undergone significant shifting of resources and expectations towards defining the high school diploma as the “benchmark of education literacy” (Hunter and Harmon, 1979 as cited in Kasworm, 1980) (Kasworm, 1980). Kasworm writes that Competency-Based Adult Education (CBAE) programs started at that time allowed adults to take short courses, master missing skills to be considered literate (basic English reading and writing and math) and based on that to receive a High School Diploma. (That initiat...
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...and universities that lie in the basis of the American higher education system. The first one is the Carnegie Unit that is time-based and that is a basis for awarding financial aid to students (Silva, E., White, T., & Toch, T., 2015). The second one is the complexity of re-designing curriculum into interrelated competencies and the problem of identifying these competencies in the current diverse educational landscape (Silva, E., White, T., & Toch, T., 2015).
Regardless of the concerns and challenges, competency-based educational system keeps growing and more and more universities run experimental programs to determine its feasibility. There is a saying, “Everything new is well forgotten old”; CBE is in fact a well-forgotten old that the educators are implementing with the certain changes so it works in the current socio-economic, political, and educational settings.
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