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Why CBE Works for the New Student Demographic

  • 3 Min Read

Fall is in the air, and Ben has just arrived on campus to begin his freshman year. It’s the first time he’s ever been away from home, and he’s both excited and nervous to start this new chapter in his life.

This is the classic story that has played out on college campuses for generations. But these days the story, more often than not, actually sounds more like this:

It’s back to school time for Carla, which means her kids need their lunches made, homework checked, and be out for the bus by 7:30 am. Then it’s off to work a full day as a quality clinical manager at a local long-term care facility.  After a long day’s work and cleaning up after dinner, Carla pulls out her laptop to finish up an assignment for the part-time BSN program she’s taking online.  When she completes her program next year, Carla will have the credentials she needs both in her current role and if she decides to pursue a career in nursing in the future.

There is a growing number of non-traditional students inhabiting our colleges and universities. Often they’re looking to upgrade or begin their post-secondary educational journey while also managing the additional responsibilities that naturally come from being a mature student.  According to the latest enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 39% of post-secondary students entering a fall semester are 25 years or older.  By 2021, that percentage is expected to climb to 43%.

Whether you’re Ben starting freshman year at 17 or Carla, a working mother, looking to upgrade her nursing credentials – your educational goals are pretty much the same.  Ultimately, it’s about getting a degree and finding employment. The paths to get there just might be a bit different.

This is the reason competency-based education (CBE) programs have been around in one form or another since the 1960s and are seeing accelerated adoption in recent years. They provide viable alternatives for the growing population of non-traditional or ‘new traditional’ students looking to achieve their educational goals.

Why CBE Works

The CBE approach can be highly personalized and self-paced. It’s suited for the millions of adult students who juggle competing priorities while trying to fit school into life’s demands. This is a big reason why CBE is gaining a lot of traction with policymakers and educators.  In addition to providing the flexibility that these non-traditional students need, CBE programs can also help them save significant costs.

Here are just a few economic benefits:

  • Students have the opportunity to progress through coursework more quickly than they would in a traditional credit-based structure. Provided the price per credit between traditional and CBE models is similar, this can lower costs for students.
  • Students can transfer credits previously earned from other sources and earn lower cost credits through Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) and portfolio examinations
  • Some educational institutions offer CBE “all you can eat” tuition pricing in which students pay for a set period of time and can earn as many credits as they want during that period
  • CBE courses can be less expensive for colleges to offer than traditional coursework—and the lower cost of delivery is a cost they could pass down to the student

Meet A New Traditional Student

Carla Lundeen knew she needed to work towards a degree in nursing to realize her career goals. But as a busy working mother, she required an educational experience tailored to her life. The University of Wisconsin Flexible Option is helping her realize educational goals through a competency-based learning program delivered online.

If you’re interested in learning more about competency-based education and why this learning model is gaining popularity, download the new CBE eBook.


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