Competency-Based Education

Competency-Based Education brief cover


  • Competency-based education (CBE) is an approach to pedagogy that emphasizes the mastery of skills and concepts rather than credit hours or seat time. The assessment of mastery can take several forms, including formal assessments of prior learning (such as portfolio reviews or examinations) and automated evaluations of online coursework.

  • Advocates of this approach argue that CBE can reduce the time and cost of earning a traditional college degree while providing students with specific workforce skills that are valued by students, funders, and employers.

  • Independent colleges and universities have been more reluctant to explore CBE than public institutions or for-profit education providers. Some independent institutions, however, have successfully adopted elements of CBE for undergraduate and graduate education.

  • CBE may help address two important concerns about the future of independent higher education: maintaining high standards for student learning and containing student costs. But CBE also represents a challenge to assumptions about curricula based on credit hours, sustained student-teacher interactions, and the residential experience.

​Council of Independent Colleges
By Philip M. Katz
April 2015