Lipscomb submits competency-based education proposal to U.S. Department of Education

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Lipscomb’s College of Professional Studies issues formal response to U.S. Department of Education call for competency-based learning models that recognize student’s knowledge, work experience

bell tower 2Lipscomb University is among a select 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 last month 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.

“Lipscomb University created the College of Professional Studies to better connect with and respond to employers on workforce development needs,” said Charla Long, dean of Lipscomb’s College of Professional Students. “A competency-based program is a way to link the academy to the business sector as it focuses on what student-employees know and can demonstrate, regardless of how much time that individual has spent in a traditional college classroom. We support the Department of Education’s interest in fostering responsible innovation and experimentation because it will allow competency-based education programs to better address workforce needs and demands in a more effective manner.”

A competency-based education model is an emerging concept in higher education. It focuses on what students need to know, understand and be able to do to earn degrees and on assessing the achievement of these discipline-specific and general competencies. These models hold learning requirements constant while academic calendars and structures can vary from traditional course-based, credit-hour-measured, instructor-led education, making them tougher to finance through federal student aid.

Long said a key factor to making competency-based programs available to more students will be finding ways in which federal aid programs can better support such programs. Just last week President Barack Obama negotiated with Congress to pass a new spending bill that includes a $260 million “First in the World” fund for higher education innovation and reform that will focus on competency-based education and learning initiatives. On Thursday, Jan. 16, he met with more than 100 university presidents to discuss initiatives to increase access to college education and to increase the number of students who complete an education with a focus on competency-based initiatives.

Public support for learning-based models is strong. A 2012 Gallup/Lumina Foundation Poll found that most Americans agree that earning a college degree is important for financial security, but many lack education beyond high school due to the barriers in traditional, time-bound higher education. Of those surveyed, 87 percent said they believe students should be able to receive college credit for knowledge and skills acquired outside of the classroom, and 75 percent of those polled said that if they could be evaluated and receive credit for what they know, they would be more likely to enroll in higher education.

After reviewing submissions, which are due Jan. 31, the Department of Education could use its statutory authority to formally request ideas for experiments that have the potential to increase quality and reduce costs in higher education while maintaining or increasing the programmatic and fiscal integrity of student aid programs. Last month, department officials said they have a particular interest in testing ideas that could improve student persistence and academic success, result in shorter time to completion, and reduce students’ reliance on loans, especially among lower-income students and students who struggle academically.

In months ahead, the Department of Education is expected to issue a call for proposals from colleges and universities interested in participating in “experimental sites.” With waivers from certain federal financial aid requirements and regulations, the selected colleges and universities would be allowed to test alternative methods of administering federal student aid.

Lipscomb University’s College of Professional Studies offers programs designed to meet the unique life demands of the adult learner and range from degree completion programs to several graduate-level programs and certificates that prepare students for jobs in the current or future marketplace. It houses the university’s undergraduate Adult Learning Program, the School of TransformAging and the Institute for Law, Justice and Society.

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