Will Competency Based Education Impact Federal College Funding?

By on April 29, 2013

Competency based education is changing the landscape of the college experience, in what can only be described as a radical departure from the traditional, credit hour format. It seems that the federal government is not too far behind this change, and this could mean exciting things for future college students when it comes to financial aid.

What is competency based education? The standard method of earning college credits is based on time–or “hours”–spent in a course. Competency based education is a far departure from the time-based standard. Rather than log a certain number of hours to earn credits, college students must earn an education through self-paced learning, without the aid of a classroom and professor, and then prove their competency by way of a complex test or task. Competencies are posed as “can do” statements (i.e. “can use logic to compose a compelling argumentative paper” and “can critique a work of modern literature in terms of plot, character, theme, and setting”).

Self-paced learning. So, if students don’t have a professor, how do they learn? The answer is self-paced learning, and it is accomplished using a variety of resources. The Internet is chock full of valuable educational tools, and these are all valid resources for acquiring knowledge that can be practically applied to developing a competency. College students enrolled in competency based programs are encouraged to explore options like MOOCs (massive open online courses), Khan Academy, documentary websites, and even educational Youtube videos.

Proving competency. Once students are confident that they have developed competence in a discipline, they must prove that competence to earn college credits. This proof typically takes the form of a complex task that may be equated to a final term paper or project. For example, using the “can do” statements from the above example about critiquing a modern work of literature, the student would need to write a critique in a way that proves a comprehensive understanding of not only the piece of literature being critiqued, but also effective writing and literature elements.

Competency based education and federal college funding. One reason competency based education is getting a lot of attention right now (besides its radical new approach to earning college credits) is the fact that the federal government seems to be hopping on board. Just recently, the United States Department of Education granted Southern New Hampshire University with the right to accept federal financial aid for its “College for America” program. The College for America program is a competency-based associate’s degree program–the first of its type to be approved for federal financial aid.

Will other colleges follow suit to develop their own competency based education programs? It seems that online resources dictate that there is only one logical answer to that: yes, they will. Apparently, the federal government will be there to support this college education revolution, too.

This is a guest post from Luis Sweeney. Luis is a guidance counselor always looking for ways to help graduating high school students find financial aid, cheap used textbooks for college, and permanent housing.

About Nicole Keller