Competency-based education programs work for working adult students
College and university enrollment saw a 2.5% decline overall in the fall of 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. First-time student enrollment is down over 13% across sectors, and among first-time non-traditional students ages 24 and up, enrollment is down nearly 30% overall.
But that wasn’t the case for programs at South Texas College and Brandman University that took a competency-based approach to learning, as Guild Education Senior Principal, Dr. Lisa McIntyre-Hite and C-BEN Executive Director, Dr. Charla Long, point out in Competency-based Education and the Future of Work, published in Training Industry Magazine earlier this month. In fact, enrollment for these programs grew during the pandemic.
Competency-based education, or CBE, is a learning framework focused on outcomes in the form of demonstrable skills rather than test scores. Its self-paced approach is inherently flexible —students who already have experience or prior knowledge can progress more quickly— making it an attractive option for working adult students who have to juggle other responsibilities with school.
Critically, the benefits of CBE extend well beyond enrollment and flexibility for students according to McIntyre-Hite and Long, chief among those benefits is employability: “Even before the pandemic, two-thirds of employers were formally moving away from the degree and toward competency-based hiring or were actively exploring such a change.” Programs that take the guesswork out of the skillset a degree may or may not imply through empowering students to demonstrate their talents can build confidence in hiring and unlock greater opportunities for working adult students.