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Always Consider Retention: Maximizing Success in Competency-Based Education

The EvoLLLution | Always Consider Retention: Maximizing Success in Competency-Based Education
Successful competency-based education programming requires more than just strong course design; institutions must consider how to minimize as many barriers to completion as possible.

Roughly 600 colleges are in the design phase for a new competency-based education (CBE) program, are actively creating one or already have a program in place. That’s up from an estimated 52 institutions last year according to a recent post by Paul Fain.

One primary reason for this growth is the need to expand the talent pool needed by local businesses especially in key higher-order thinking skills such as problem solving and working with others. CBE-designed programs focus on the student demonstrating their proficiency in the content area highlighting competencies that the Committee on Economic Development noted as essential in future workers including critical thinking and teamwork.

While content design and assessments strategies are important, a key component taken for granted is student success.  Developing the talents of an individual is what Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, says is the combination of knowledge, skills and abilities that, perfected by education and experience, benefit individuals and society.  To create this student-centric environment CBE programs need to look at the student experience holistically with the added dimension of the distance and time barriers to the services and support needed by the student and provided by the institution.

Work being done by the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) examines the lifecycle a student in a CBE program would experience. This graphic leads to a draft outline of the support systems and areas needed and is a work in progress. It does highlight key questions to ask, key stakeholders to include, and ways that will lead to student success and completion.

I would emphasize the role traditional support service areas such as financial aid, registration and counseling have.  CBE students in these programs have the same need other students have and will rely on these areas to provide support at the hours CBE students can access them and to be student-centric in responding and meeting the needs of the individual.

One area that many institutions are finding invaluable are success coaches.  From graduate programs such as those offered at Western Governor’s University with their Student Mentors to two-year degree programs such as those at Kentucky’s Learn on Demand and their Success Coaches, the role of the student advocate is proving a key component to student completion.

Another model, the TIP Reference Architecture, highlights the key areas that CBE programs interact with student from a data perspective. This Technical Interoperability Pilot (TIP) project is a partnership between the C-BEN and the IMS Global Learning Consortium.  While the driver for this work is on the hardware systems CBE programs use this model identified how “relatively simple tasks like enrollment and grade reporting seemed to require a major effort, and more complex work, like awarding financial aid, was nearly impossible without armies of staff to hand-manage workaround records and processes.”

This model reflects systems that store student data, however it also reflects key human interaction touch points where students need to be supported with people as they seek tutoring, create portfolios, and look to transfer or graduate and bring these processes to reality, from taking courses to completion.

As you review these guides there are three overlapping barriers to an environment of student success: institution-created barriers to completion, a lack of high-touch engagement and the impact of competing priorities for students’ time.

First, it’s important to consider how barriers like inefficient and inaccurate advising can impact student progress toward degree completion. Focus on the path to a credential from the very beginning of the student experience and active advisement is vital.  Enroll your faculty and success coaches in programs to provide them with the knowledge and confidence that they are advising effectively and provide them with the most recent materials to ensure students do not lose time or take classes that do not contribute towards obtaining the desired credential.

Second, put the high touch into the high tech. Many CBE programs have students enrolled part time and are noted “as being older, place-bound, and vocationally minded, with significant prior work experience and some prior college experience.” Create community and connections for these students so they don’t feel they are left on this path all alone. Cohorts supporting each other can lead towards completion.  These connections, according to Westwood College, include “counseling resources, free tutoring and mechanisms to network with teachers and classmates. A sense of community at the college can provide support to help you achieve a degree.”

Finally, be aware of the impact time has on the responsibilities these students have.  According to a recent article by Kimberly Van Horne at Bakersfield College, many “work full- or part-time jobs, take care of family members, raise children, and have friends and other relationships that need their on-going attention.” Areas such as aligning course offerings to ensure timely enrollment options, sessions on time management, and providing student services at hours that meet the needs of this older, part-time student will all contribute towards their success.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, “the roles of everyone involved in learning are changing, from student to faculty to the support teams.” If the focus is on student success then every person needs to analyze every student touchpoint and look to these interactions as opportunities to build support, create community, and implement improvements that will lead to the completion of the credential being sought.

When this happens students will succeed.

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