Competency-based program featured in Inside Higher Ed

By |


Lipscomb University’s new and innovative competency-based program is quickly gaining a reputation as a national leader.

CORE_3The program was featured in two articles in the April 22 edition of Inside Higher Ed, a national higher education news source. Reporter Paul Fain recently spent two days on the Lipscomb campus learning more about the program and observing the program in action.

In the articles “Competencies come to campus” and “Lipscomb University’s assessment center’s high stakes approach to competency-based education,” Fain recounts his experience and what he learned from individuals who are part of Lipscomb’s unique program. The articles credit Lipscomb’s program as being a “rare example of how liberal arts colleges” can make competency-based programs work. Fain said that Lipscomb has developed a “cutting-edge model” that has the potential to be replicated at other institutions.

Launched by the College of Professional Studies this spring, the program is designed for working adults that recognizes a student’s pre-existing set of college-level competencies, knowledge, skills and abilities acquired through work experience and other out-of-class learning opportunities. Competency-based education is a hot topic in higher education, which varies greatly from the traditional college model.

The program is offered through Lipscomb’s new CORE (Customized, Outcome-based, Relevant Evaluation) Competency Assessment and Development Center and is tied to the nationally recognized Polaris® competency assessment model which identifies and rates an individual’s key competencies. This information can be used to develop a customized program for individuals returning to finish undergraduate studies and includes a recognition badge system that rates a participant’s level of competency in key areas.

CORE_1“Competency-based education is an emerging higher education model that has great potential especially for non-traditional students who already bring a great deal of work and life experience to the classroom,” said Charla Long, dean of Lipscomb’s College of Professional Studies and architect of the university’s competency-based program. “To be recognized by industry leaders and media as a leader in this field helps validate the need for programs like this and gives credibility to these programs. It also helps spread the word that there is a path for everyone that leads to a college education.”

On April 10, Lipscomb University was among three universities from across the nation whose representatives were invited to the nation’s capital to discuss these innovative competency-based learning models and to explore new ways of using federal student aid to increase access to these models.

While in Washington, D.C., Long met with government officials at the White House to discuss competency-based education models, the outcomes of these programs for students and specific issues in current federal law and regulations. She also spoke at a congressional briefing on competency-based education models, and encouraged Congress to change federal aid regulations to help fund federally authorized “experimental sites” that offer this innovative educational approach.

“Larger public institutions, primarily state systems, have typically been tapped to tout their higher education innovations and to push for policy changes,” said Long. “So it is significant that Lipscomb has become part of this conversation on a national level. The competency-based approach to higher education is allowing all institutions, regardless of whether public or private, for-profit or non-profit, 2,500 students or 25,000 students, to develop students who can demonstrate their learning and be workforce ready from the point of graduation.”

Lipscomb is the only university in the nation to utilize a behavioral-based competency and assessment model that's in use by a wide-range of industries. It is widely used by human resources departments in major corporations across the country. Students entering the program will begin the process with an assessment on a battery of competencies.

Each competency area carries its own badges and levels with badges being earned as each higher-level of competency is met. Leveled e-credential badges are awarded for corresponding competency mastery. Then, a career and competency coach creates a customized development plan for the individual. Individuals then work to develop his targeted competencies through a self-paced, coach-encouraged plan.

The new undergraduate degree program allows students with competency deficiencies to enroll in development modules to help them reach their career goals while working to complete their undergraduate degree, with concentrations in aging, business, psychology or restorative criminal justice. The program focuses on six leadership competencies including relationship building, problem solving and decision making, organizing and planning, influence, communicativeness and drive.

Lipscomb University was one of a small group of universities across the country to formally respond to a recent call for ideas from the U.S. Department of Education about how federally authorized “experimental sites” could help them responsibly explore new ways of using federal student aid to pay for innovative competency-based learning models.

The institutions submitted a joint response outlining experiments that would explore new or alternative federal definitions of student “attendance,” separate federal financial aid eligibility from time-based measures and test hybrid programs that mix competency-based learning and traditional instruction.

This group of colleges and universities responded to the U.S. Department of Education’s call earlier this year for options for waiving federal student aid policies governing grants and loans that inhibit alternative learning models with potential to better meet the needs of some students. The department will use responses to its request to determine how to frame a formal request for proposals that could come later this year.

For more information about Lipscomb’s College of Professional Studies, visit or call 615.966.1104.