By Brian Fleming, Senior Analyst
Competency-based education (CBE) is gaining momentum, and higher education leaders are taking note of this unique market opportunity. Over the last several weeks, Eduventures has released a series of reports offering objective, relevant, and timely perspectives on this emerging market, including its size, key demand drivers, and a comprehensive landscape of the players, partners, and perspectives impacting its future growth. Here is an executive summary of our findings.
Market Size and Scope
Eduventures defines CBE as “an outcomes-based design for learning focused on the demonstration of knowledge and concrete skills acquired prior to or throughout an educational program.” Based on our analysis of this market, we find:
- The number of schools offering CBE programs is growing significantly. In 1990, no more than 50 colleges offered CBE programs. Today, as many as 150 offer some form of competency-based programming, with as many as 400 others with programs in development. While most colleges offer programs in business, education, and healthcare, many also focus on engineering education and other science- and technology-related fields. Most programs are delivered wholly or mostly online, which offers the most scalable format.
- The number of students enrolled in CBE programs has grown fourfold. In 1990, no more than 50,000 students were enrolled in CBE programs. In 2013, nearly 200,000 students were enrolled, with widespread efforts to attract new audiences through innovative and creative new delivery formats. Most enrollments are concentrated among colleges with numerous CBE programs, such as Capella University, Excelsior College, and Western Governors University (WGU). Enrollments are also picking up speed through standalone programs at colleges ranging from Northern Arizona University and Westminster College (UT) to various community colleges (many of which work in partnership with WGU) and smaller niche programs, such as the University of Michigan’s recently launched graduate degree in health professions education.
- Evidence of significant growth in programs and enrollments through 2020. Looking ahead, the numbers of colleges with CBE programs and of students enrolling in these programs will continue to pick up speed. By 2020, we estimate that as many as 750 colleges will offer CBE programs and that overall enrollments will exceed 500,000 students, mostly adults learning through self-paced programming offered wholly or mostly online. Driving this growth will be, among other things, programs designed explicitly around employer demand, which is a key driver of growth in this market.
Mapping Out the CBE Landscape
To get started with CBE, or to make improvements to your existing models, Eduventures recommends mapping out the many players, partners, and perspectives available to help support your vision and program strategy. Our comprehensive review of today’s CBE landscape will help support critical planning and decision-making around the effective design and delivery of this unique program format.
- Determine the right approach to CBE, and the optimal delivery model(s) to avoid the costly mistake of pursuing the wrong approach. Eduventures has identified six approaches to CBE. Before jumping into a particular type of CBE, we recommend studying these models and dissecting the philosophies and practices behind each one. Keep in mind that some, such as prior learning assessment, are much easier to implement than others, such as direct assessment.
- Decide what organizations and enablers to align with to ensure that you are engaging with the perspectives that will be most supportive of your vision. Keep in mind that, just as there is no single approach to CBE, there is also no unified voice driving this market. There are, in fact, many voices out there today, each representing different (sometimes contradictory) visions and viewpoints about the value and potential of CBE. Study the mission, key areas of focus, and unique agendas of all potential partner organizations to determine their value in supporting your institution’s vision and goals. When working with certain enablers, such as peer networks, know their consultative and engagement models, what they look for in a potential partner, and what you can expect from them. Also, know the tools, methodologies, and technologies they use to support new initiatives.
- Carefully explore tools and technologies available to support your model. As you begin, remember that there is a wide range of resources and tools available to you and that the differences between these possibilities can be very confusing. Depending on your approach, you may find you can deliver CBE programs with little change to your existing technological infrastructure or only through slight modifications. Knowing the landscape of tools and technologies out there to support your model will help you select the right options and to invest wisely.
For more Eduventures research on CBE, including a primer of the key terms, an overview of the market opportunity, and a detailed market landscape, please contact the author of this week’s Wake-Up Call, Eduventures Senior Analyst Brian Fleming, at firstname.lastname@example.org.