Key Characteristics of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education (CBE) Programs: A Descriptive Rubric

Cameron Smither
Audrey Peek
Matthew Soldner

Competency-based education (CBE) is an educational model that, put simply, is based on learning rather than “seat time.”

Recently, many colleges and universities have started innovating with CBE programs, creating new and different structures that vary widely across institutions, and sometimes even across CBE programs within institutions. As the field matures, researchers and institutional leaders have discovered the need for a conceptual tool that would facilitate better descriptions of the core components of any CBE program.

This rubric, drawn from the expertise of leaders within the postsecondary CBE field, is designed to help CBE program leaders, their campus colleagues, and researchers describe key features of their CBE program. This descriptive rubric poses questions across six broad categories:

  1. Institution and program characteristics
  2. Development of competencies
  3. Assessment
  4. Instruction and student support roles
  5. Programmatic flexibility
  6. Financial aid and tuition pricing.

For each question in these categories, the rubric describes the 3-4 most common alternatives in practice in today’s postsecondary CBE landscape.

With a clearer understanding of how CBE is being implemented in each context, researchers and institutional leaders can make more nuanced observations about CBE programs, particularly as they relate to student outcomes, including what kind of results they might expect to see given the program’s design.