Competency-Based Education

Purdue Gets Accreditation for Competency Education

Purdue University's first major competency-based learning experiment, announced in 2013, has received accreditation. The Purdue Polytechnic Institute received approval from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) for its a bachelor's degree in "Transdisciplinary Studies in Technology." Rather than pursuing a given number of required hours of credit, its students will be able to achieve their degrees through proving mastery of specific competencies.

The idea of a competency-based education (CBE) is to give students measurable learning objectives that they can work through on their own schedules and prove mastery of in their own way, based on personal interests.

Students in the Purdue program do a lot of hands-on work through group projects, while the faculty members act as advisors and mentors. Each semester introduces a new design lab that incorporates elements from computing, engineering, graphics, construction, aviation, humanities and leadership. Students approach projects based on their own disciplines and skills. The results of the work are captured in digital portfolios, with digital badges and through letter grades.

In order to graduate, a student must demonstrate expertise in eight broad areas, including design thinking, effective communication, social interaction on a team, ethical reasoning and innovation and creativity. Each of the competencies is split into sub-competencies, showing different levels of proficiency: developing, emerging and proficient.

The institute's dean, Gary Bertoline, said in a prepared statement that competency-based education addresses "the call" from industry leaders who want a different kind of job candidate. "They are looking for well-rounded graduates that not only have deep technical knowledge and skills but very broad capabilities for open-ended problem solving, greater creativity, ability to work in diverse teams and better communications skills."

Purdue President Mitch Daniels explained that competency-based education is part of an institutional transformation process, which may introduce competency-based education into other programs at the university. "This degree creates a study plan around the student rather than an academic schedule. Students take work at their own pace through the program and, in the end, come away with a proven skill set that is meaningful to employers in today's business world."

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education approved the new program last year after the Purdue Board of Trustees voted in favor of it in April. The recent vote at the Higher Learning Commission provided final accreditation. As part of that action and, presumably, in anticipation of more activity on the CBE front, the HLC modified its policy to formalize how institutions seek approval for offering competency-based education programs.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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