The Experimental Sites Initiative and Competency Based Education

By Lesley Phelps

In July 2014, the president passed legislation that allowed for more Americans to obtain the skills needed for in demand jobs. Entitled the Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI), the included experiments test innovative practices in higher education that are aimed at providing improved, faster and more flexible paths to academic and career success.

The Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI) provides the Department of Education the opportunity to waive certain statutory or regulatory requirements, and then test the impact of waiving those requirements. The process begins with the Department of Education selecting participants through an application process. Each participating institution then reports the results of the experiment, thereby providing the opportunity to compare the results of the participating institutions with those adhering to the current regulations.

ESI has the potential to benefit students, institutions and tax payers in a variety of ways. The experiments announced via the July 31st, 2014 Federal Register have the potential to decrease costs, reduce the time to graduation, and provide new flexible learning options that address the changing needs of learners. Below is a summary of the most recent experiments:

Prior Learning Assessment – Provides that a student’s Title IV cost of attendance (COA) can include costs incurred by the student for assessments of prior learning and that a student’s Federal Pell Grant enrollment status may, with limitations, take into account a student’s efforts to prepare materials for a prior learning assessment.

Competency-Based Education – Provides flexibility in how institutions provide Federal student aid to students enrolled in self-paced competency-based education programs.

Limited Direct Assessment – Provides flexibility for an institution to provide a mix of direct assessment coursework and credit or clock hour coursework in the same program.

Federal Work Study (FWS) for Near-Peer Counseling – Provides flexibility for institutions to compensate FWS students, who are employed as “near-peer” counselors to high school students, solely with Federal funds.

At Regent, we are particularly focused on the Competency Based Education (CBE) experiment for two important reasons. First, many of our customers who are thought leaders in CBE have applied for participation. Secondly, our ability to support CBE with our financial aid management solution, Regent Award, uniquely positions us to assist institutions with CBE programs. We are already assisting these schools with automating the administration of Title IV aid-even for the most complex enrollment models like non-term. Experimental Sites take this complexity to an entirely new level.

The experiment presents exciting possibilities for institutions and the students they serve, but it is not without its challenges from an operational and technical point of view. We have spent a significant amount of time analyzing the many implications for schools, students and of course the technical and operational implications. Part of this work includes creating use cases to ensure we have looked the many possible scenarios, even the most unique corner cases. We are very pleased that the Department of Education has been very open to both our questions and suggestions as we work toward a solution.

For those that have not considered participating in an experiment, we would encourage you to keep an open mind, as this is truly the best way to determine what works-and what does not. In addition to the benefits your institutions receives in terms of exemption from current regulations, you are truly helping improve the way Title IV funds are administered to students. To learn more about the Experimental Sites visit: