CBE is an approach to learning and instruction that organizes academic content according to competencies—what a student knows and can do—rather than a traditional scheme, such as by general course topics or textbook chapters. CBE focuses on mastery (sometimes measured as 80% or better) of knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes and behaviors, and students must master lower-level competencies before proceeding to higher-level ones. In CBE, learning is fixed, but timing is variable.  While traditional educational models focus on obtaining at least a “passing grade” at a pre-defined time period e.g., 15 or 10 weeks, CBE allows students to work on their courses at their own pace, while ensuring everyone meets requirements for mastery. As a result, students can balance their workload according to their personal needs or time demands, including family and work. This makes CBE ideal for professional and adult learners. Finally, CBE places a great focus on engaging industry partners in all aspects of program and course development to include curriculum, competencies, learning materials, and meaningful applied assessments (e.g. projects and tangible outputs) that show evidence of learning mastery. Targeted individual feedback is a hallmark of CBE.

    CBE is typically delivered 100% online and asynchronous to allow students to work at their own pace and on their own schedule. Course start and end dates are often flexible. Learning coaches are employed (separate from faculty) to help students in CBE programs stay on track with their goals and to ensure progress toward degree. Some CBE courses, most specifically those that require lab work, can be delivered using a hybrid model. However, the 100% asynchronous delivery approach is the one used predominantly for CBE offerings.

    Winthrop University is developing CBE programming as a means of serving a regional educational need for adult and professional learners. Competency-based Educational programming is developing across the nation as a means of serving the educational needs of especially working adults who value the flexibility that CBE affords. As the growth of traditional student bodies continues to weaken and competition for these students continues to increase, educational programming for adult students continues to offer institutions valuable opportunities.

    In Fall 2022, familiar with the successful development of CBE programming at a campus of the University of Maine system, President Serna asked academic leaders to determine whether similar programming might benefit Winthrop and the Winthrop community. After nearly six months of intense research, attendance at conferences, an assessment of resources, exploration of various technology options, discussions with SACS, CHE and other accrediting bodies, and collaborative conversations with other universities offering programs via this modality, Winthrop leadership (both faculty and staff) believe CBE is an endeavor worth pursuing.  CBE aligns with our goals as a regional institution, allowing us to better serve the growing number of adult learners in our local communities, and has the potential to serve as a significant source of revenue for the university.

    Every big move has the potential to go well, or just okay, or to flop. We believe Winthrop is especially well-positioned to be successful with CBE for a number of reasons. First, Winthrop will be the first educational institution in the state of South Carolina to introduce CBE offerings. We have every expectation that we will not be the only one in this market, but being first to market gives us advantages of revenue and brand recognition, brand loyalty and the potential to establish relationships with key employers (think Healthcare, Telecommunications, Manufacturing and Finance). Second, State officials are eagerly looking for ways to improve degree attainment rates for SC citizens and there are grant funds and special partnership opportunities to support our rollout of CBE (See South Carolina Ascend, a program committed to increase the proportion of South Carolinians with high-quality postsecondary credentials to 60 percent by 2030 - SC ASCEND 60x30). Finally, Winthrop’s long-time emphasis on quality in program development and assessment, make our faculty and staff well suited to design and deliver CBE programs with success. The ability for a smaller university to pivot and work collaboratively across campus gives us greater agility and allows us to move more quickly in the design and development of new programs.

    CBE in Higher Ed arguably notably started by Western Governors University and a group of partner institutions in Washington and other Western states around 2012. There is now a growing list of schools to include public and private non-profit institutions that offer CBE programs ranging from Bachelor’s to Doctorate degrees. Examples include:

    A growing body of research supports the efficacy of CBE programs relative to traditional programs for adult learners, with outcomes as strong or better on degree completion and time-to-degree, as well as post-graduation career and professional progression (See Cleary, 2020; J. of Competency Based Education)

    C-BEN, a nonprofit organization which was founded in 2017, offers practical information on developing and implementing CBE programs. C-BEN maintains a Resource Library with many CBE-related publications and studies.  Below is a list of relevant academic research efforts on CBE:

    • Ashby, I., Caskurlu, S., & Exter, M. (2018). Evolving roles of faculty at a new competency-based transdisciplinary program. Journal of Competency-Based Education, 3(1), e01059
    • Ashby, I., Exter, M., Matei, S., & Evans, J. (2016). Lifelong learning starts at school: Competency-based badge systems within the Transdisciplinary Experience at Purdue Polytechnic. In L. Muilenburg & Z. Berge (Eds). Digital badges in education: Trends, issues, and cases. New Work: Routledge
    • Cooper, T. (2017). People, processes, and philosophies: Designing a CBE program within a traditional university. In K. Rasmussen, P. Northrup, & R. Colson (Eds), Handbook of research on competency-based education in university settings (pp. 67-91), Hershey, PA: IGI Global
    • Ellis, D. (2015). What discourages students from engaging with innovative instructional methods: Creating a barrier framework. Innovative Higher Education, 40, 111-125
    • Klein-Collins, R. (2012). Competency-based degree programs in the U.S.: Postsecondary credentials for measurable student learning and performance. Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
    • Koenen, A. K., Dochy, F., & Berghmans, I. (2015). A phenomenographic analysis of the implementation of competence-based education in higher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 50, 1-12
    • Oyugi, J. (2015). Rationale and challenges of competency-based education and training: The “wickedness” of the problem. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(14), 74-79

    Moreover the U.S. Education Department has compiled a list of research on CBE/CBL, which can be found at: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/rel/Products/Region/central/Ask-A-REL/20015

    Many faculty may wonder about the quality of the CBE program. We did. What we’ve learned during the last eight months has taught us that CBE allows us to offer the very best of course design and development with a focus on real-world application and relevant assessments. CBE design compels us to do what we already aspire to do in most of our traditional programs.  Because these students are more mature, working professionals, they tend to move more quickly through the basics and the program can focus on modules and competencies that provide the greatest bang for the buck.

    Quality is maintained in CBE through the following methods, tenets, steps, and critical interventions:

    1.     Learner centered programs
    2.     Clear, cross-cutting and specialized competencies
    3.     Coherent, competency-driven program and curriculum design
    4.     Measurable and meaningful assessments
    5.     Embedded process for continuous improvement
    6.     Enabling and aligned business processes and systems
    7.     Engaged faculty
    8.     Engaged external partners
    9.     Flexible staffing roles and structures

    CBE offers a valuable opportunity to meet the needs of a significant regional student body. According to the 2018 Census, there is a sizable potential market seeking degree completion in York (53k) and surrounding region (96k) (York, Chester, Lancaster, Fairfield, and Cherokee). This market opportunity excludes Charlotte area residents, which we hope may add an additional potential market.

    Our primary competitors in the region include University of Southern New Hampshire, Walden University, Capella University, and similar national brands. We believe that the quality of our programming and regional recognition of our campus brand will enable us to gain a good share of this market. Winthrop is developing partnerships with regional businesses that already know and value our students, giving us the ability to tailor our programming specifically for them. The success of our CBE efforts should help to improve Winthrop’s market visibility more generally.

    Winthrop University is known for the quality of its academic programs, its smaller class sizes and richer faculty-student relationships, and its liberal arts college feel. It is known for its premier education college and has prominent professional programs such as in Social Work and Business. Winthrop CBE will be designed and delivered in conformity with established Winthrop values and will spread knowledge of our brand to a broader range of our local and regional population. We will retain our brand image among traditional student bodies and expand that image among area industry personnel and leadership. The result will be a more robust integration of Winthrop traditions throughout our community.

    Winthrop’s first CBE offering is a non-degree, alternative teacher licensure program in the College of Education, Sport, and Human Sciences in connection with their NetAPT project. Our initial CBE degree program will be an Organizational Operations and Leadership degree, currently under design by faculty in the College of Business and Technology and in the College of Arts and Sciences. Subsequent programming will also be aimed at adult and professional learners.

    Because the target market for CBE programming is adult and professional learners who cannot sit for 15-week classes, we do not believe that CBE programs will reduce enrollments in traditional programs.

    At this time, CBE programming has full support from the top of the University, all the way up to the President. The Board has heard several presentations on CBE and given positive feedback, and will vote to approve specific budgets for CBE start-up and maintenance. Revenue projections after the first few years of startup should provide funds for added faculty and resources, where needed.

    Faculty work collaboratively, often across campus and in conjunction with employers, to design and develop a list of competency-based programs that meet the needs of local employers.  Faculty are subject matter experts. Employers help to shape the applications and provide a relevant perspective on what industry needs in order to shape programming.  As one example, Organizational Operations and Leadership (OOL) will have the input of faculty from the College of Business, the College of Arts and Sciences, and several local employers with manufacturing operations.  After CBE programming is developed, employers may continue to serve as course graders/assessors and to provide feedback which shapes the growth and continuous improvement of the program.

    In fall 2023, CBEN training will be provided on campus to interested faculty and staff. In addition, administrative office staff will travel to sister CBE institutions to learn CBE implementation and practices first-hand from their peers. In addition, as a member of CBEN, Winthrop faculty and staff have access to multiple learning resources, including “CompetentU”, a repository of training modules; a resource library of CBE best practices and white papers; and access to a board of senior CBE administrators as well as further contacts at a network of institutions.

    A contingent of Winthrop faculty have attended the CBEN national meetings of 2022 (October) and are sharing their knowledge across the campus.

    College of Education, Sport, and Human Sciences faculty have already received training from the Competency Based Education Network (CBEN), the primary national CBE support organization, with whom Winthrop has purchased a membership.  CESHS continues to disseminate their knowledge among their colleagues and we are building a compendium of resources, in-house competency and training, and relationships with other institutions.

    There are no institutional plans to require CBE development of faculty. We believe that as faculty gain greater acquaintance with CBE, many will seek out opportunities to develop CBE delivery of their programs. CBE provides an opportunity to grow as educators and to expand the student body that we can reach. There are many models of how it works in terms of load and compensation. Some programs may have CBE as part of the load, others may have a stipend structure. More information will be presented as programs are approved.