The real proof is in the students themselves

January 21, 2014

Michelle Navarre Cleary, of DePaul University’s School of New Learning, wrote a blog post for Inside Higher Ed last week about competency-based learning and the benefits it offers students.

In her post, Michelle shares a few examples of why she believes competency-based education is a strong alternative to traditional programs. She explains how it can save students both time and money, how competency programs increase access to college for nontraditional students and minorities, and how information is more likely to be retained and used again when learners engage in metacognition.

Michelle emphasizes that while all these reasons are important to think about when considering competency-based programs, the best indicator of how well these programs work are the students themselves. “Again and again, I see students grow in confidence, revel in the joy of learning, leave jobs to begin careers, and expand their worlds. And that, as any educator worth her salt will tell you, is what it’s all about.”

Michelle also highlighted Capella as a provider of competency-based education. Capella’s competency-based curriculum is designed for busy, experienced professionals who want to gain the relevant competencies to help advance their career – and in the most efficient way.  For the past 10 years, we have wholly-integrated and continually invested in a competency-based learning approach throughout our university. As a result, we’re able to map academic and professional standards to all of our degree programs and more fully support students as they progress through their program.

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The bricks of modern education need the straw of experience-based skills

January 13, 2014

Harvard Business Review recently published a post about competency-based education and the advantage it gives employers when they are looking for the right job candidate.

McKinsey & Company’s “Education to Employment” report, referenced in the article, gives a thorough look into what students, employers and educational institutions think about the education students are receiving today. It outlines huge opportunities for growth that are only possible if the three groups work together.

Employers worldwide have expressed that college transcripts are oftentimes not very helpful when assessing a candidate for a position.  This is where competency-based education and assessment comes in. “To link education to meaningful outcomes, what’s needed is the ability in college to assess – in detail and at scale – the development of real world-relevant skills.” Employers can then take this assessment and compare it directly to the job position to determine if the candidate has what it takes to get the position.

A few companies in the United States (HBR’s article outlines them) have used skills-based hiring techniques to pick job candidates. It seems to be working very well for them; there has been a 25-75% reduction in turnover, a 40-70% reduction in time to hire, a 70% reduction in cost to hire, and a 50% reduction in time to train.

These numbers are very promising. We’re going to hear more about employers using competency-based education and assessment in 2014.

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Interstate Passport Initiative

January 9, 2014

Inside Higher Ed outlined a promising development in higher education, the credit hour and transfer programs today.

The Interstate Passport Initiative, a set of mutually agreed-upon learning outcomes that are a new way of thinking about students transferring between institutions, was announced this week. This initiative is led by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). It is now possible for students to transfer from one of the 16 participating institutions to another by showing they hold certain competencies.

Institutions on both sides of the process decide which courses and credits equate with competency. The receiving institution also decides which credits a transfer student should earn for his or her proven proficiency.

This project is important for what it signals about the credit hour and college transcripts. The Interstate Passport Initiative goes beyond the credit hour – “it could contribute to the ‘unbundling’ of higher education, where assessed learning typically trumps time spent in the traditional classroom.” It is a widespread belief that college transcripts are inadequate at depicting student learning; by measuring proficiencies and competencies, one could get a better idea of what a student accomplished at their institution.

This initiative could create a more streamlined transfer process and save money along the way. The leaders of the project are hopeful that many more colleges and higher education systems will sign on and participate.

See the full article here.

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Fighting the affordability crisis

January 8, 2014


Capella’s President Scott Kinney wrote a powerful article in the Hechinger Report today on how innovation in higher education can help make college more affordable.

To address this national crisis, we must support innovation in higher ed. By re-thinking how we deliver high-quality education through models like direct assessment, we can reduce the cost of the degree and still maintain academic rigor and quality.

Scott makes an important point about the urgency needed when trying to fix this problem in our country. He states that a robust, highly-educated workforce that has the mastery of the skills needed in tomorrow’s labor market is essential for the U.S. to remain competitive in the global economy. Unless we encourage innovation and rethink fundamentals soon, the percentage of Americans with college degrees could actually decline due to the crippling amount that a college degree costs.

Here is a link to Scott’s article, “Fighting the affordability crisis by linking new learning models to outcomes.”

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2013 – Year in Review

December 30, 2013

2013 was an important year for Capella and competency-based education.

In March, the U.S. Department of Education invited higher education institutions to submit programs for consideration under Title IV federal financial aid that did not rely on seat time. The concept of “competency-based education” that uses direct assessment is not a brand-new idea, but it has always been constrained from full implementation by multiple federal rules. One of the most notable rules was the fact that in order to qualify for federal financial aid, online courses had to last for a full term and follow a set curriculum.

In August, this all changed. The Department of Education approved Capella’s FlexPath direct-assessment program and waived these rules. Capella is one of the first universities to get this approval and launch a competency-based program that utilizes direct assessment. In October, Capella officially rolled out our FlexPath program for our bachelor’s degree in business and MBA programs. With FlexPath, students work at their own pace to complete a series of assessments in each course. A key advantage of this approach is that it allows the student to move quickly through subjects in which they are already proficient.

Here are a couple examples of coverage on FlexPath and competency based education.


2013 was also an exciting year for Capella’s social media presence. Our Facebook page reached 50,000 likes this month.  Capella is grateful for the opportunity to build and connect with our adult learners and those exploring the possibility of continuing their education.


I hope you have a great start to your new year, and I look forward to connecting with you in 2014.

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