Officials with the University of Maine at Presque are working with the nation’s top Competency-Based Education leaders—to establish shared guiding principles for the learning approach and offer recommendations that will help other institutions develop competency-based degree programs of their own—after being selected as one of only 20 institutions nationwide to participate in the Competency-Based Education Network [C-BEN].
C-BEN is a three-year effort coordinated by the national nonprofit research and public engagement organization Public Agenda and funded by the Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation focused solely on increasing Americans’ success in higher education. Those tapped to participate in the network already offer CBE degree programs or are on their way to creating them.
“Competency-based education is quite a hot topic in higher ed right now and the Competency-Based Education Network is the nation’s most closely-watched effort to define the learning approach and give institutions across the country a blueprint for developing high quality CBE programs,” UMPI President Linda Schott said. “We are so pleased to have been selected as one of the handful of institutions nationwide to contribute to this effort and will be sharing our best thinking around competency-based education and UMPI’s particular focus on our proficiency-based education initiative.”
The University announced in February its transition to proficiency-based education, a move that made UMPI the first university in Maine and one of the first in the nation to deliver this type of interactive learning. UMPI begins offering its proficiency-based learning approach to incoming freshmen this fall. As delivered by UMPI, proficiency-based education focuses on solving real-world problems, allowing students choice both in how they learn and how they demonstrate that learning, having students show proficiency in a subject area before moving along to the next concept, and getting hands-on experience in students’ chosen fields.
UMPI is not exclusively focused on the degree-completion competency-based model on which many of the other network members are concentrating. Instead, UMPI brings a unique perspective to the group with its proficiency-based learning approach that includes elements of competency-based education; in particular, requiring students to achieve targeted competencies—learning specific 21st century skills that employers are seeking, such as collaboration, creativity and critical thinking—in order to graduate.
University officials hope their participation in the group will allow them to gain important insight about competency-based education that will help them to further refine their proficiency-based education efforts.
C-BEN’s initial cohort includes 17 other colleges and universities: Antioch University, Argosy University, Brandman University, Broward College, Capella University, Charter Oak State College, City University of Seattle, DePaul University, Excelsior College, Lipscomb University, Northern Arizona University, Salt Lake Community College, Southern New Hampshire University, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (Texas A&M University-Commerce and South Texas College), the University of Maryland University College, and Westminster College. In addition, two higher education systems serving 42 campuses also are participating: Kentucky Community & Technical College System and the University of Wisconsin-Extension.
“This network is an unprecedented and exciting opportunity for higher education institutions to collaborate in ways they never have before on challenges they all share,” said Alison Kadlec, Public Agenda’s senior vice president, in a press release announcing the initial cohort. “These challenges often stand in the way of making high-quality competency-education more widely available. There’s especially a need for shared learning around issues related to communication, program design, quality and rigor, stakeholder engagement, back office systems, and sustainable business models.”
The network hosted its first working session in Phoenix, Ariz., bringing together teams of academic and business leaders from each institution for a two-day period to talk about the potential of competency-based education for better serving students and to set a course for their work.
The institutions now are exploring business processes and systems necessary to accommodate student-centered learning, communications needs associated with explaining competency-based education and how it differs from traditional academic instruction, and principles of program design. Additional working sessions have been scheduled for July in Washington, D.C., and October in Nashville, Tenn.