The Currency of Higher Education: Credits and Competencies

Innovations in educational models focused on learning outcomes have captured a great deal of attention, but there are many barriers to adoption and scalability. The American Council on Education and Blackboard’s joint research has explored outcomes-based innovations, focusing on competency-based education (CBE) as a significant source of credentialing that diverges from traditional post-secondary pathways. Our prior work includes Clarifying Competency-based Education Terms: A Lexicon, which contributed to the field a shared vocabulary for discussion.

Implementing CBE practices in credit-hour environments is challenging. However, a key premise of The Currency of Higher Education: Credits and Competencies is that while credit-hour processes are likely to remain deeply embedded in post-secondary systems for some time, there is ample opportunity for innovation with competencies as a parallel and complementary currency. Credit hours provide a basis for our current models of exchange in higher education, including credits required for degree attainment, financial aid, transfers between institutions, and other critical functions. Competencies provide representations of learning outcomes that are more flexible and transparent and can be applied in multiple contexts within and outside educational institutions.

We depict new opportunities through scenarios that illustrate how competencies provide broad value in educational processes, not only as a means of documenting student achievement, but also to create meaningful connections between jobseekers and employment, for faculty and staff development, and for economic development.

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Dr. Deborah Everhart, Director of Solutions Strategy, Blackboard
Dr. Deborah Seymour, Assistant Vice President, Education Attainment and Innovation, American Council on Education
Dr. Karen Yoshino, Principal Strategist, Blackboard