As part of our research on competency-based education, on Feb. 20 Blackboard is co-hosting an event with the American Council on Education’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation and Center for Policy Research and Strategy. This event focuses on alternate pathways to degree completion for post-traditional learners, and it launches two new papers:

  • The Currency of Higher Education: Credits and Competencies, which explores opportunities for credits and competencies to serve as parallel and complementary currencies in an information-age economy that relies on flexibility and the ability to apply learning in rapidly changing circumstances
  • Credit for Prior Learning: Charting Institutional Practice for Sustainability, which identifies successful strategies to make credit for prior learning an essential component of an institution’s mission and part of the continuum of teaching, learning, and assessment

Speakers include:

  • Louis Soares, Vice President of Policy Research and Strategy, American Council on Education
  • Chris Nellum, Senior Policy Analyst, American Council on Education
  • Mary Beth Lakin, Director of College and University Partnerships, American Council on Education
  • Deborah Seymour, Assistant Vice President, Center for Education Attainment and Innovation, American Council on Education
  • Deborah Everhart, Director of Solutions Strategy, Blackboard
  • Sally Johnstone, Vice President for Academic Advancement, Western Governors University
  • Charla Long, independent consultant and former Dean of the College of Professional Studies, Lipscomb University
  • Mike Reilly, Executive Director, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers
  • Natasha Jankowski, Associate Director, Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

In the last few years, two innovative approaches — Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) and Competency-Based Education (CBE) — have been aligning in new ways to produce alternate pathways to degree completion for post-traditional learners. The alignment of these approaches produces new value in our educational ecosystems.

The value structures built around credit hours are based on industrial-age, time-based educational models, presenting challenges in an information-age economy. Innovations that shift from industrial models of education to information-age learning processes expose fissures in systems that assume the value of credits. Do we need a new currency for measuring post-secondary outcomes and achievement? Can competencies provide a new currency that augments the value of credits in educational ecosystems?

Analysis of barriers to adoption elucidates how challenging it is to implement CBE practices in credit-hour environments. However, a key premise of The Currency of Higher Education: Credits and Competencies is that while credit-hour processes are likely to remain deeply embedded in post-secondary systems for some time, there is ample opportunity for innovation with competencies as a parallel and complementary currency. Credit hours provide a basis for our current models of exchange in higher education, including credits required for degree attainment, financial aid, transfers between institutions, and other critical functions (reiterated in a new report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape). Competencies provide representations of learning outcomes that are more flexible and transparent and can be applied in multiple contexts within and outside educational institutions. This paper includes scenarios depicting new opportunities for competencies to provide broad value in educational ecosystems, not only as a means of documenting student achievement, but also to create meaningful connections between jobseekers and employment, for faculty and staff development, and for economic development.

The Currency of Higher Education: Credits and Competencies is written by Deborah Seymour, Assistant Vice President, Center for Education Attainment and Innovation, American Council on Education; Deborah Everhart, Director of Solutions Strategy, Blackboard; and Karen Yoshino, Principal Strategist, Blackboard. It draws on our prior work, Clarifying Competency-based Education Terms: A Lexicon, which contributed to the field a shared vocabulary for discussion. We hope you will find this work useful and that it will continue to provoke further CBE-oriented conversations in higher education circles.

Download the paper.

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