National Survey of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education

Competency-based Education (CBE) programs have attracted great interest across higher education over the last decade. These learner-centered programs are designed to teach students particular competencies, and students advance through a program based on demonstrated mastery of a competency rather than on credit hours or grades.

The Survey

View findings from the third edition of the NPSCBE by downloading the 2020 report or the infographic.

The National Survey of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education (NSPCBE) is an annual, web-based survey of postsecondary institutions in the United States, geared toward assessing the state of the CBE field, including both institutions that are interested in adopting CBE and those already on the adoption pathway.

The survey will be administered over three consecutive years (2018-2020) to provide important information about the early development of the field to policymakers and practitioners. Survey questions include:

  • How many postsecondary CBE programs are there in the US?
  • What different CBE program models are being used in the US?
  • How many students are enrolled in CBE programs in the US?
  • How many students have received a CBE credential in the US?
  • What are the accelerators and barriers to adopting a CBE program?

Additional survey questions are designed to shed light on whether, how, and why institutions decide to adopt CBE; how effective and affordable they are considered to be; and how these institutions envision using them in the future.

The Results

Here are key findings from the survey:

  1. CBE Adoption: CBE adoption efforts span all institution types, and we see indications of growth in the number of programs; however, much adoption activity remains piecemeal, with many institutions adopting some but not all elements of CBE. Most institutions consider CBE as a tool for advancing specific institutional goals, rather than the primary mode of operation for the institution.
  2. CBE Programs: Most CBE programs are being offered in a variety of modalities and are currently serving relatively small numbers of students. The top disciplines offered are consistent with the top-enrolling disciplines nationwide, and faculty still fulfill a broad range of roles.
  3. CBE Students: More research is needed, but early indications suggest that CBE programs often serve a greater proportion of students with prior credits than traditional programs, and institutions price their CBE programs so that the amount students pay may be similar to or lower than for traditional programs.
  4. Barriers, Facilitators, and the Future of CBE: Despite the perceived barriers to CBE implementation—both internal and external to the institution—most institutions remain optimistic about the future of CBE nationally and at their own institution.

The report on the survey explores critical questions and recommendations for program leaders, institutional leaders, and policy makers who are interested in CBE programs. The 2020 edition of this survey will continue to track these questions and the evolution of CBE programs in higher education.

View findings from the third edition of the NPSCBE by downloading the 2020 report.

Kelle Parsons
Principal Researcher