Closing the Credential Gap: Higher Education’s Accessibility Makeover

The launch of the 2015 Breakthrough Models Incubator

When you gather a group of university leaders from across the country together in one room, you get widely varied perspectives on the challenges unique to each of them and those they share as well.

It helps when those leaders represent the diversity in contemporary American higher education: two-year and four-year colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, all a mix of public and private institutions.

At the 2015 Breakthrough Models Incubator in Washington, D.C., these executive teams are investing 2.5 days to tackle thorny topics like assessment, academic policy, tech investment, and change management. They’re using these sessions to frame a discussion about competency-based education and to determine how their institutions can establish degree programs that focus on skill acquisition rather than seat time.

By 2016, ten competency-based education (CBE) programs will be ready to launch.

Why Competency-Based Education?

Mastery-based learning may not be an entirely new concept; however, establishing it in a scalable context within higher ed involves what leaders call a ‘mind shift’.

Yet a major opportunity exists, as some 36 million American adults have earned some college credit, but no credential. These ‘nontraditional’ students have become the new majority, and institutions able to embrace this diverse population are poised to make an impact on society and the economy, not to mention broadening their student base. But requiring adult students to start back at square one when life and work experiences could easily be exchanged for ‘gen ed’ courses is a backwards approach. That’s where competency-based education comes in.

Some trailblazing institutions like Texas A&M Commerce have a lot of experience in this area. With a $10,000 total price tag, the Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Program made a lot of waves when it was initially announced; after the program launched in January 2014, there were lessons learned by all of the partners involved, including the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Van Davis, who served as the Board’s Director of Innovations in Higher Education, shared some insights in a keynote session this morning. That involved ensuring that the new competency-based degree program would be faculty-driven and largely collaborative from a curricular standpoint. Navigating the tricky waters of change management in a traditional setting can be very challenging, but these institutions are ready to face it. And we at EDUCAUSE look forward to sharing their plans with you!

Learn more about the 2015 Breakthrough Models Incubator cohort.

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