H.R. 3136: Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act of 2014

This legislation provides for an experimental period of time in which institutions of higher education can experiment with “competency-based education that does not meet certain statutory and regulatory requirements that would otherwise prevent them from participating in federal student aid programs (Govtrack.us, 2014).” The Library of Congress summary “defines ‘competency-based education’ as an education process that is characterized by the direct assessment and measurement of student learning instead of, or in addition to, measuring students’ credit or clock hours (Govtrack, 2014).”

Competency-Based Education will help members of the American workforce advance academically commensurate with their work experience. Since a college education is a must have in America, and since almost all Americans need to work to sustain a livable domestic economy for their families, going to work and going to school are not always possible, and furthermore are often not the only two burners cooking at the same time. Care of young and old can influence work productivity for family members in their prime work years.

For example, in Colorado, we have a nursing shortage. 2,000 nurses will retire per year for the next decade and another 1,300 per year are needed to meet population growth demands (Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence, 2014). It is amazing how many new nursing programs are being developed including at the Colorado Mountain College where I work. We have a waiting list for our pre-nursing program. In other words, we can’t find enough professors to teach enough classes to satisfy the demand for classes posed by incoming students hoping to cash in on Colorado’s nursing shortage.

           We see nurses entering the career pathway with a certificate or an associates. In order to reach the next pay grade, they must attend more schooling. Many, however, have significant work experience such that if offered the opportunity, they could demonstrate competency in the learning outcomes defined in the curricular pathway as aligned to professional skills outcomes, or achieve that training while at work.

           Significant improvements could be made to the nursing career pathway if a learning community in the workforce became commonplace. In other words, senior workers in the professional environment could be cross-trained to assess competency according to standards approved by and aligned with an academic accreditation entity.

Competency-Based Education (CBE) flies in the face of many of the constructs of higher education in America as we know it.  The common understanding is that learning units are defined by credits and credits are defined by “seat time,” although this is not explicitly stated in the standing laws. The concept of “seat time” is therefore not a direct hurdle to CBE. However it is an indirect hurdle because academia needs to adjust the concept of the “credit” and accept a new scaffolding for categorizing, defining, and evaluating their educational product.

References Cited

Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence. (2011). Colorado’s Nursing Shortage. Retrieved August 7, 2014, from http://www.coloradonursingcenter.org/colorados-nursing-shortage

Library of Congress. (2014). Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act of 2014 (H.R. 3136) Retrieved from the U.S. Government website on August 7, 2014. from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr3136#summary/libraryofcongress

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