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EDUCATION PHILANTHROPY DIVISION OF ASCENDIUM EDUCATION GROUP

Spotlight November 13, 2020

Grant Explores How to Take Competency-Based Education to a System Level

Competency-based education (CBE) is an education reform approach that offers a faster on-ramp to postsecondary education for students who have acquired knowledge outside the traditional classroom. CBE-oriented systems are different from traditional higher education in that they award credit as soon as a learner can demonstrate they have the knowledge and skills for clearly defined competencies.

Despite this promise, CBE is not commonly adopted by entire state college and university systems. That’s why we funded a planning project with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) to explore a systemwide approach to CBE within its general education, career, technical and workforce training programs across its 16 institutions.

“The fact that a traditional state higher education system is considering implementing CBE made this project compelling,” said Maryann Rainey, a program officer for our Streamline Key Learner Transitions focus area. “At Ascendium, we are constantly thinking about how we can support systems change to better serve learners. This system-led planning project provides fertile ground for learning about the advantages and challenges of considering this kind of transformational work statewide.”

The effort, funded in part with a $614,000 grant from Ascendium, demonstrates a commitment to investing in diverse pathways into postsecondary education, which include approaches like CBE. Exploring diverse pathways into technical education and workforce training is a key investment priority for Ascendium through our Streamline Key Learner Transitions focus area.

“CBE takes into account the applicable and valuable existing knowledge that students may have acquired outside the traditional classroom,” Rainey said. “Ultimately, by mapping the knowledge and skills learners have mastered through KCTCS programs, they will more easily be able to align postsecondary education with workforce and industry needs.”

KCTCS has retained the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), a membership organization dedicated to promoting CBE through programming and support services, as a technical consultant to support the project and design their model and produce a comprehensive field guide to implement CBE on a system level. This field guide is intended for institutions and systems nationwide as they consider implementing CBE as a mechanism to align academic programs to the competencies sought after by employers and provide equitable on-ramps for their students.

“By starting with this planning period, KCTCS will understand the academic and non-academic structures needed to build and sustain a CBE model. We thought it was crucial to capture this comprehensive effort in order to share with other institutions and systems,” Rainey said.

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