College students have changed. Today’s typical student is no longer the traditional student—more than 80 percent are over 25, have jobs, and support themselves and often a family. They are tech-savvy and accustomed to finding information and conducting business online, when and where they choose. They are smart consumers and expect their college experience to be tailored to their individual needs and career goals. Increasingly, colleges and universities will need to develop models, programs and systems that fit the student rather than requiring students to fit into their systems.

A new approach

Today’s students come to college knowing different things. They learn at different rates. They need programs that provide individualized learning experiences. Competency-based education, which measures learning rather than time spent in class, is ideal for busy adults who need to fit education into their lives. Required competencies for each course and program are defined up front, with learning resources and assessments developed to match those competencies. Students learn at their own pace, moving quickly through what they already know and focusing on what they still need to learn.

"Students can study, learn, and even take assessments on their own schedules, choosing learning resources that fit their individual needs and learning styles."

Technology plays a key role in delivery of instruction in competency-based programs. Students can study, learn, and even take assessments on their own schedules, choosing learning resources that fit their individual needs and learning styles. Rather than teaching classes, faculty serves as mentors, providing students one-on-one guidance, support and instruction as needed.

Relevant to the real world

Competency-based education, done correctly, offers important benefits to students and their current and future employers. First, because there are no set course times, students can accelerate their studies and graduate faster. This saves both time and money.

In addition, this model makes it possible to tie what students learn—the competencies—more closely to industry needs. Collaborating with employers to identify required competencies for each degree ensures that degree programs are job-relevant.

There are more than 36 million adults in the U.S. today with some college and no degree. For these busy adults, competency-based education makes earning a college degree, getting a better job and creating a better life for their families possible.