On the Path to Success: Early Evidence about the Efficacy of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education Programs

Competency-based education, a strategy that enables students to demonstrate content mastery before moving on in their studies, has the potential to improve quality, reduce costs, and expand access and success for students in postsecondary education. Yet data on the success of competency-based education is limited. This report from the American Institutes of Research examines competency-based education models in six institutions -- including one 2-year public community college, three private nonprofit institutions and two private for-profit institutions -- in order to answer the following questions: 

  • What are the characteristics of programs being offered? 
  • What are the demographics characteristics and educational goals of enrollees?
  • What do the data tell us about student in outcomes in competency-based education, in contrast to students in traditional programs?
  • What data are used to track student performance and improve programs? 
  • What data gaps converning these questions remain? 

While the report finds evidence that competency-based education increases access to postsecondary learning, the researchers are not confident that such programs reduce costs or improve quality. 

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October 2016