More than 600 colleges and universities are either in the design phase or already offer competency-based (CBE) credentials, according to a September report in Inside Higher Education. That work may be in jeopardy following the critical audit of CBE issued by the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Education (ED).
The inspector general’s office, which works independently of ED, has raised concerns in its last two audits of the credential review process. The audit was critical of the way the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the largest regional accreditor, considered college proposals for CBE credentialing. It also questioned the level of interaction between instructors and students.
In 2014, the inspector general’s audit criticized approval of direct-assessment degrees. It also questioned the faculty’s role in CBE credentialing and worried about low-quality providers. That prompted HLC to freeze approval of degrees last year and the Department of Education to issue more guidance on CBE.
“I, along with many others, have pointed out numerous times that this particular regulation makes little sense in today’s world of emerging online, competency-based programs—and we should instead be moving toward outcomes-based judgments around institutions,” Michael B. Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, wrote in a column that appeared in CompetencyWorks. “But the friction is also entirely predictable, as competency-based education simply does not fit into the traditional value network and associated regulatory structures of higher education.”
On the heels of the critical audit, ED announced a series of executive actions aimed at strengthening the overall accreditation system. The department will make public the standards every accreditor uses to evaluate student outcomes. Accreditors will have to submit letters that are sent to colleges and universities when the institutions are put on probation and also highlight data such as student graduation rates, debt levels, and postgraduation earnings, according to a report in U.S. News & World Report.