Skills – Integrating competencies in postsecondary education and training

Although employers may require degrees, these credentials may not be the best signal of skills for hiring qualified workers. And students may not see investing in years of postsecondary education as cost-effective.

Using competencies to communicate skills could facilitate smarter hiring practices and create a more flexible, lower-cost education system of shorter-term credentials that are valued in the labor market and can lead to a degree.

Government and educational institutions need to change their systems to support this shift.

This report highlights how policy and programming can encourage and support the integration of competencies into postsecondary education and training.

Strategies to Encourage More Attention to Competencies

Our traditional postsecondary systems are not designed to encourage attention to competencies. Rather, in many ways, they create difficulties for programs and institutions that are moving toward these types of approaches.

Policymakers and stakeholders at different levels can signal the importance of competencies in postsecondary education, eliminate red tape, and encourage educational institutions to invest the time and resources needed for systems change.

Signaling the Importance of Employment Outcomes for All Postsecondary Education and Training

Training programs funded by the US Department of Labor often explicitly track and report labor market outcomes such as placement rates and earnings. However, programs in our traditional postsecondary systems have historically not been measured similarly. In practice, interviewees pointed out that that many faculty and staff are often not thinking about the occupations and industries that will likely employ their graduates when designing curricula, and they may not be attuned to how their learning objectives translate into the competency language employers understand.

Some of the people interviewed highlighted important conversations happening in recent years about labor-market outcomes following postsecondary education, mostly in the context of student debt. The Department of Education’s new College Scorecard is an important tool to advance that conversation. It is the first nationwide, transparent, accessible data source that provides information not only on completion rates for academic programs but also on median debt and earnings one year after graduation. More systemic use of these kinds of data by parents and students would increase the demand for programs with better labor-market outcomes and could encourage much more widespread conversations about aligning curricula with competencies, better linkages and coordination with employers, and better communication of the competencies already embedded in curricula.

Emphasizing the Importance of Competencies

Policymakers and key stakeholders can also take steps to encourage educational institutions and training providers to focus on competencies.

These might include designing and implementing full CBE programs or thinking strategically about how to translate what their students know into terms employers value and recognize.

Aligning Approaches across the Education Continuum and Smoothing Transitions

The language of competencies and competency-based approaches is often completely unfamiliar to students and faculty at postsecondary educational institutions, and it may cause confusion or uncertainty. Some interviewees perceived there is less resistance in states that already have a strong proficiency movement in K–12 education, wherein students advance by achieving learning outcomes rather than by complying with seat-time requirements.

Some of the experts suggested that policymakers could encourage competency-based approaches by introducing this type of system early on in students’ educational experiences in primary and secondary school, embedding it throughout postsecondary education, and leveraging competencies to smooth transitions after high school and between postsecondary institutions.

Broadly Adopting CBE Quality Standards

Because of the nature of formal CBE programs and how new they are, institutions seeking to adopt CBE models have faced challenges because of the lack of methods to adequately assess their quality. In response, the Competency-Based Education Network (CBEN) worked with a panel of experts to design a rubric that would help accreditors and state officials alike more systematically assess quality. The framework includes eight different domains:

  • demonstrated institutional commitment to and capacity for innovation around competencies
  • clear measurable, meaningful and integrated competencies
  • coherent program and curriculum design
  • credential-level assessment strategy with robust implementation
  • intentionally designed and engaged learner experiences
  • collaborative engagement with external partners
  • transparency of student learning
  • evidence-driven continuous improvement

Experts suggested that assessing these domains would be helpful and relevant for not just formally defined CBE programs but for all academic and training programs regardless of the specific model they use. This is particularly relevant if federal, state, or local institutions are focused on achieving positive labor market outcomes for students.

Building Evidence about Competency-Based Approaches

Staff and faculty in our educational institutions want the best for students and want to achieve results in the most cost-effective way possible. Many of the people interviewed said that the clearest way to encourage colleges, universities, and training providers across the country to adopt more competency- based approaches is to demonstrate and broadly disseminate research that evaluates their comparative advantages in achieving student outcomes such as student retention, completion, job placement, and earnings.

Yet most institutions implementing competency-based programs or experimenting with learner records that include competencies do not have the capacity or resources for formal evaluation, or they have been reticent to share this information openly. This challenge can hamstring leaders’ efforts to develop a strong case to institutional stakeholders both internal and external.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ Better Connecting Students to Jobs: A Guide for Policymakers to Encourage and Support Integrating Competencies in Postsecondary Education and Training | Urban Institute


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