JFF and C-BEN Partner to Expand Competency-Based Education and Access to Good Jobs
As American higher education strives to reshape itself to increase success for all learners during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, JFF and C-BEN are joining forces to help colleges and universities chart an exciting new course. The two organizations have formed a strategic partnership to advance the next generation of competency-based education (CBE), designed with equity at the center and grounded in labor market value.
JFF Vice President Michael Collins announced the partnership at C-BEN’s annual conference last week, saying that CBE can play an important role in helping many people gain the skills they need to transition successfully from postsecondary education into good jobs. This is especially true for Black, Latinx, and Native American learners, who are disproportionately unemployed and underemployed during the pandemic.
“We must ensure that all of our students, particularly those who are vulnerable in the economy, are getting the digital skills, the human skills, and the business enabler skills that employers are increasingly demanding,” Collins said.
With high unemployment and an unpredictable economy, today’s workers and learners want a rapid return on their educational investment. Some are feeling the effects of automation as well as the impact of the pandemic. They need postsecondary credentials that will slingshot them to jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage and put them on a path to upward mobility, regardless of ongoing economic shifts. While many jobs have been lost as a result of the pandemic and the trend toward automation, new jobs are being created—and that is leading to demand for new skills.
JFF Vice President Michael Collins
We must ensure that all of our students, particularly those who are vulnerable in the economy, are getting the digital skills, the human skills, and the business enabler skills that employers are increasingly demanding.
Competency-based education can make it easier to learn new skills, earn credit for skills already mastered through work or life experience, and improve outcomes for all learners, particularly people of color and those from low-income communities who have been hardest hit by the pandemic’s economic fallout. High-quality CBE programs that meet the needs of local employers are an essential approach to revamping higher education and expanding economic advancement for all.
CBE allows learners to advance at their own pace, as soon as they show mastery of content via a meaningful type of assessment. It’s more flexible than traditional, time-based courses, which require students to complete a specified number of instructional hours, usually over a semester, and prioritize deadlines and content completion over learning mastery. The flexibility of CBE enables many learners to earn competencies and complete credentials more quickly. The focus on mastery enables many learners to gain a deeper understanding of the material.
The impact of the pandemic—including job loss, wage reductions, increased family responsibilities, health concerns, and lack of child care—has underscored the urgency to update traditional educational models. We must better accommodate part-time learners and remote learners as well as employer demands to upskill and reskill workers. Postsecondary enrollment is now 3.3 percent lower than it was at the same time last year in all types of institutions. Community colleges are showing the steepest decline, and it is concentrated among Black, Hispanic, and Native American students.
Competency-based education can make it easier to learn new skills, earn credit for skills already mastered through work or life experience, and improve outcomes for all learners.
The partnership draws on C-BEN’s leadership and deep knowledge in developing competency-based educational models and its expertise in implementing and scaling high-quality nontraditional programs for all learners. JFF brings significant experience building educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations and developing innovative programs and policies that increase college readiness and career success, leading to a more highly skilled and competitive workforce.
To kick off the partnership, JFF and C-BEN issued a call to action seeking higher education institutions and systems interested in collaborating in their inaugural venture, The Equity Collaboratory. The Collaboratory invites colleges, universities, and state higher education systems to develop CBE programs and credentials to better serve learners of color and students from low-income backgrounds, leading to improved college and workforce outcomes.
Participants will receive technical assistance and support from JFF and C-BEN to do the following:
- Create new or modify existing competency-based programs and solutions that will reduce inequities and lead to jobs in the current and post-COVID economy
- Generate strategies to connect postsecondary programs and their learners to the labor market
- Create resources and tools for equitable learner support services
- Document and create a road map for CBE program design and implementation for other institutions in the network and beyond
Today’s learners and workers must be more agile than ever in developing the knowledge, skills, and mindsets they need to compete in the ever-changing economy. Postsecondary institutions and state systems must be equally flexible, nimble, and adaptable to help all students succeed.
JFF and C-BEN invite you to join this movement to break down inequities in higher education by accelerating access to equitable CBE programs. The Collaboratory will launch with its initial cohort in January 2021.