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Dan Phelan, president of Jackson College (Michigan) and a member of the AACC board of directors, noted the importance of competency-based education.
Competency-based education (CBE) can be valuable in ensuring community colleges provide the right kind of training to get people into the job market quickly with the skills employers need.
That’s the consensus of higher education leaders at a forum on community colleges and CBE on Monday hosted by the New America Foundation and co-sponsored by the foundation, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), Western Governors University (WGU) and the American Council on Education.
The essence of CBE is “flipping time and mastery,” said Sally Johnstone, vice president of academic advancement at WGU. Under the traditional education model, everyone starts a course at the same time and finishes at the same time. Some students master the material, and some don’t.
With CBE, everyone masters the material, although some take longer to do so, said Johnstone, who describes CBE as “a platform that enables individualized learning.”
Talking through the concerns
Dan Phelan, president of Jackson College in Michigan and a member of the AACC board of directors, called the work to develop CBE models “important and urgent.” He said AACC’s forthcoming strategies to implement the recommendations of its 21st Century report will address the need to offer CBE as a way to provide stackable credentials with real market value.
The concept of ignoring grade levels and instead building courses around what employers want “is standing registrars on their heads,” he said. “This seems so antithetical to the way we’ve done things.”
For some faculty, one of the biggest issues is “the speed at which change is coming,” Phelan said. “These fears are real and they must be addressed.”
To smooth the transition, he urged faculty and administrators to hold plenty of conversations on the practical realities of CBE and how it will work.
On their way
WGU, an online university based on the CBE concept, is working with 11 community colleges to help them develop CBE courses. Three institutions—Broward College (Florida), Sinclair Community College (Ohio) and Austin Community College (Texas)—are already a year into adopting CBE as part of a project funded with a federal Trade Adjustment Assistance and Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant.
Eric Seleznow, acting assistant secretary for the Employment and Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor, said the department would like to see more industry-driven solutions like CBE in the next round of TAACCCT funding, which will be announced in early 2014.That will be the last round of funding in the $2 billion, four-year TAACCCT program.
“We would like to keep it going. We’ll see how that goes,” he said.
The other eight colleges WVU is working with include Valencia College (Florida); two Ivy Tech Community College (Indiana) campuses; Lone Star College (Texas); and four in Washington state: Bellevue College, Edmonds Community College, Columbia Basin College and Spokane Community College. WVU is providing coaches to help the colleges develop online CBE courses. The courses are all in technical areas tied to workforce needs and are in a mix of associate degree and certification programs.
Johnstone listed a set of design principles for CBE, based on WGU's experiences:
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