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In this article, Dr. Sunil Ramlall, scholar and author, provides a synthesis of competency-based education. This is especially relevant in the United States and globally, as more adults are pursuing their degrees and bringing a wealth of experience to the classroom.

What is CBE? Educational programs that are competency-based are designed around the knowledge, skills, and professional dispositions that are necessary for success in a particular industry or field. With their high practicality for learners and employers, it’s no surprise that since 2012, the number of CBE programs in the U.S. has grown from 20 to more than 500. Competency-based higher education highlights the competencies of individuals and often enables students to progress at their own pace. CBE programs offer working adults a convenient, self-paced way to earn a bachelor’s degree (McDonald, 2018).

How can we create more access to quality and affordable education in the U.S.? How can we significantly assist more students to reach their educational goals and improve their employment outcomes? How can we recognize the learning and experience the vast number of nontraditional students bring when they come to our colleges seeking a path to improved career opportunities and family-sustaining wages? In the twenty-first century, a high-quality, affordable postsecondary education is the key to both national competitiveness and individual success (Johnstone & Oares, 2014).

The value-proposition of CBE is that learners are able to demonstrate expertise in a body of knowledge and be able to apply the knowledge and skills in the real world. This reorientation builds a bridge between academics and employers, resulting in a better understanding of the knowledge and skills that students will need to succeed in work and in life. This is assuming that degree programs, course content, and learning outcomes are developed and designed in alignment with industry trends, practices, and expectations. Competencies are defined as a cluster of related knowledge, characteristics, attitudes and skills which have a great impact on the individual’s job, have correlation with an individual’s performance at work, can be evaluated by the accepted standards and are improved through training and development (Sanchez, 2010). While institutions such as Capella, Rasmussen, Western Governors University (WGU), and numerous other highly reputable institutions are using the CBE method, the argument is that CBE is an approach that improves teaching and student learning and provides a means for helping quality and affordability co-exist in higher education.

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