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Enrollment Management and Competency-Based Education

, , , | February 13, 2024 | By
The demand for competency-based education is on the rise. Population and demographic shifts in age, race, and regions, coupled with the transformation towards a skills-based economy and an increased need for learning beyond high school is prompting students of all ages to explore alternative ways to demonstrate knowledge and secure credentials that help to enhance careers and drive economic mobility. 

According to C-BEN, competency-based education (CBE) is “an educational approach that focuses on the mastery of specific knowledge, skills, and intellectual behaviors, known as competencies, rather than solely relying on the accumulation of credit hours. In a competency-based education program, the emphasis is placed on students’ demonstrated proficiency and their ability to apply what they have learned in real-word, authentic contexts.” 

Competency-based education signals a departure from traditional higher education in a number ways, ranging from the structure of the academic calendar to the way institutions disburse financial aid. Augmenting traditional, credit-based programs with CBE is of interest to many colleges and universities. According to the National Survey of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education (NSPCBE), 13% of respondents have CBE programs in place and 47% are in the process of adopting CBE. But making the shift isn’t easy. And institutions must consider a number of factors as they explore the potential CBE can offer for their students and their institution.

In a recent webinar led by C-BEN president Charla Long, she joins a panel of experts who share their perspectives on enrollment management, financial aid, and competency-based education. 

Here are a few highlights. 

Key Decisions that Drive CBE Initiatives
CBE represents an amazing opportunity for colleges and universities to align their academic programs with the needs of today’s economy and workforce. Students benefit as well, gaining access to flexible programs that enable them to demonstrate what they can do - not just how many hours they spend in a classroom. 

As colleges and universities explore implementing CBE within their institution, they must consider three key decisions:

  1.  Regulatory Classification: will the institution use course/credit-based programming, direct assessment, or a hybrid of both?
  2.  Delivery modality: will the courses and programs be delivered on-campus, online, or in a blended environment? 
  3.  Academic calendar: will the institution adopt standard term, non-standard term, non-term, or subscription period?
Decisions around regulatory classification and academic calendar are crucial, especially when it comes to how an institution will align and disburse financial aid. For example, standard term CBE looks and feels similar to traditional semesters, and the process to distribute financial aid is similar as well. But non-term requires a more individualized approach. Awarding varies person to person, each with their own trigger for the timing of disbursement. In the case of non-term, many institutions struggle to automate this process, which adds manual work for financial aid staff. 

Similarly, decisions around regulatory classification determine the complexity of financial aid disbursement. Course and credit-based programming, similar to standard term, resembles traditional programs, making financial aid disbursement a more straightforward process. On the other hand, direct assessment is more complex, with different guidelines and regulations that make financial aid processes more complex, and oftentimes, more manual. 

Decisions about regulatory classification and academic calendar in particular are fundamental to the structure of CBE offerings at an institution. But these decisions can’t be made in a vacuum. It’s important to invite key stakeholders from across the campus, including enrollment management and financial aid, to be part of the decision-making process. They’ll offer valuable insight about their processes and the impact various decisions will make on their staff, process, and supporting technologies. 

6 Ways to Set Your CBE Initiative Up for Success
As institutions embark on the process to implement CBE on their campus, there are a number of critical decisions to make that cause a ripple effect to multiple departments, processes, and technologies. But as you begin this journey, there are best practices you can follow to set your institution on the path to success. 

  1. Lead with Student Success
    When it comes to designing and implementing CBE programs for your institution, a guiding principle is to lead with student success. When you keep students at the center of all your decisions, you’ll make learner-centric decisions that advance the mission of the institution - and drive greater levels of student success.

  2. Be Collaborative
    As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to involve all stakeholders early and often. By giving enrollment management and financial aid leaders and practitioners a seat at the table, you can ensure not just that the decisions you make are learner-centric, but also that the associated systems and processes can and will adapt in ways that can support your CBE initiative as well as the students it serves. 

  3. Embrace Innovation and Iteration
    When considering your CBE programs, come to the table with an open mind and consider ways you can innovate within your department to support CBE - and ultimately the success of your students. Consider what your department does well today - and consider how you can extend those practices, processes, and technologies into the CBE environment. And then iterate from there, knowing that you’ll likely need to tweak your processes as you go through the process.  

  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
    Communication with learners as you roll out your CBE programs is key to your success. They will have questions - about academic calendars, financial aid, and much more. Help them understand how CBE processes related to areas such as financial aid are different from traditional programs. Anticipate the questions they may ask, and proactively communicate responses to these questions. This one area where you can’t overdo it. 

  5. Use your resources
    C-BEN offers a number of resources to support institutions as they start and scale their CBE programs. In addition, C-BEN, AACRAO, and Regent Education released a guide to help financial aid leaders adopt competency-based education (CBE). The guide is designed to help financial aid offices administer federal, state, and institutional funds to learners enrolled in CBE programs. Because CBE measures learning through mastery not time in seat, financial aid offices need systems and processes to manage awards across standard and nonstandard terms. Access the guide to delve deeper into how you can support the expansion of CBE programs by implementing best-in-class practices that support student needs and institutional priorities.  

  6. Align your technology to your CBE needs
    Competency-based education requires different ways of tracking learner progress and achievements as well as flexibility in the ways and times that you administer financial aid. Consider the systems you have and what you may need to augment or replace to better serve your emerging CBE programs in ways that reduce the burden on staff and enhance the overall student experience. 
Automate and Scale Financial Aid for CBE
Financial aid for CBE requires different processes than traditional financial aid. Many institutions accommodate these changes through time-intensive, manual processes because their traditional financial aid management solution simply can’t accommodate the automation required to support CBE. That’s not the case with Regent Education.

We understand the complexities of financial aid, including those introduced by CBE, and know how to make the management of them more efficient so your institution can focus on what matters most: the students. Backed by a group of forward-thinking EdTech investors, Regent Education is the leading provider of SaaS-based financial aid solutions that automate the verification, packaging, repackaging, and disbursement across multiple enrollment models, including CBE. 

Our holistic suite of cloud-based financial aid and scholarship management solutions are the only ones to automate financial aid across all enrollment and educational models, enabling colleges and universities to customize and accelerate deployment of the financial aid lifecycle so they can maximize enrollment and compete for top students. Through our support for standard and non-standard terms, subscription periods, and non-term enrollment models, Regent Education empowers your staff to efficiently and effectively manage financial aid for all your CBE programs.

Flexible and SIS-agnostic, Regent Education’s solutions integrate seamlessly with existing FAM, SIS, and other key campus systems to deliver critical financial aid and enrollment insights to everyone on campus who needs them. 

Ready to learn more? Request a demo to experience the Regent Education difference.