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9 Lessons from Successful CBE Programmes

  • 3 Min Read

Competency-based programmes demand significant change at institutional, faculty, and student levels, but the payoff is worth it.


We know competency-based education (CBE) isn’t a new concept. So why has it been gaining so much attention lately? More institutions are beginning to think about CBE programmes as a strategy to keep up with a rapidly changing student demographic. We know by the year 2020, 42% of college students will be adult learners (25 years or older) – that changes the game. The good news is, if you’re one of those institutions, you don’t need to start from scratch. There are many other schools who have already done it – and successfully.

Competency-based programmes demand significant change at institutional, faculty, and student levels, but the payoff is worth it. Western Governors University for example, has achieved a one-year retention rate of 76%, in its CBE programmes.

If you’re wondering what sort of questions you should be asking or what you need to know before getting started, check out these 9 lessons from those who have already designed and implemented CBE programmes at their institutions:


Having leadership support is critical to successfully launch your CBE programme. The first thing you should consider is conducting a readiness assessment to evaluate your institution’s appetite and fit for CBE. This step can also help to engage senior decision makers who are critical to get buy-in. Also, if you allow faculty and staff the opportunity to provide input in the development phase, it will help mitigate internal resistance along the way.


Involving faculty early in the process is essential to the success of your CBE initiative. You need to be aware of their concerns and embrace their feedback to build support for the project. Although you may have to hire additional faculty to take on new roles required in the CBE model, existing faculty are critical sources of input to help you build assessment, course content, and pedagogy.


How you staff your CBE programmes should be addressed early on in the process. You need to decide if your programmes will be taught by existing faculty or if adjunct/non-tenured faculty should take on curricular and assessment roles.


Having supporting measurement data systems in place will help ensure students are progressing at a reasonable rate. Analytics should be easily accessible by teachers, since they are crucial to providing appropriate guidance. They can help identify when a student is at-risk and needs more help, and you can see how effective processes and learning resources are.


What if a student decides they want to change their pathway? You would then need a way for students to transfer from a CBE programme to another degree pathway. This is where credit-equivalencies come into play. If you decide your institution will be following a course-based model with credit equivalencies, it’s important to have this transition setup.


Student services are often overlooked in the early stages of development and design of new initiatives. Addressing issues with student advising, financial aid, and transcripts should not be something you defer.


Implementing a self-paced, non-semester, non-grade based model requires a technology platform that can integrate with existing student information systems. This is crucial for the scalability of your programme, and to accurately measure success. Try to integrate your new initiatives with your current student information or learning system metrics. This will help faculty and staff evaluate if their learner support and assessment strategies are successful.


Developing a pricing model that can sustain your CBE programme depends on your financial and programme goals. For example, some schools have set out to operate self-sufficiently by returning the net revenue to those colleges who were a part of the new initiative. Keep in mind, this might mean you will need a large investment at the outset to get your programme up and running.


Instead of relying on integrating a CBE model into your current administrative structure, consider an independent programme model. This may allow your programme to launch much more quickly. However, make sure you centralise your advising and administrative support systems. This is important because faculty, instructional designers, admin, evaluators, etc. need to be aware if learning objects shift, so they can adapt their learning resources to support the objectives accordingly.

There you have it, the top 9 lessons learned from institutions who have designed and implemented their own CBE programmes. If you’d like to learn more about how competency-based education is impacting education and what it can do for your institution, don’t stop here – download the new CBE eBook to learn more.

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