Competency-Based Education: Helping Students Turn Experience Into Credits

By: Emma Rose Nov 09, 2020

Competency-Based Education: Helping Students Turn Experience Into Credits

Many post-traditional students, especially graduate students, are looking for ways to minimize the time and financial commitment required by higher education. One way to help students achieve this goal, and secure their enrollment, is by helping them to turn their experience into credits. When you make it easy for students to earn competency-based credits and transfer credits, you also make your school a more attractive prospect for working learners, returning learners, and other post-traditional students. 

How competency-based education targets post-traditional students

Most traditional students do not have real-world experience that can be turned into credits. If they’ve enrolled in college directly out of high school they probably don’t have work experience or credits from other institutions. As a result, the marketing messages of institutions that have relied on traditional students to meet enrollment goals may not include competency-based education and processes for transferring credits. 

Yet traditional students make up just a small fraction of student enrollments. Most students are post-traditional, meaning they are over the age of 22, live off-campus, and study online or part-time. Post-traditional students are by definition those who have not gone directly from high school to college, but have followed a less direct path. Along the way, they may have built valuable knowledge through work and previous studies. 

Post-traditional students don’t want to spend time and money taking a course just to earn a credit. They are goal-driven and would rather start learning new skills they can immediately apply to their careers.

Competency-based education can help lower costs for students while making your institution a more accessible option, but that’s just the first step. Institutions must also inform potential students about transfer credit and competency-based education policies. Making these a cornerstone of your marketing messages can help add more post-traditional students to your enrollment funnel. 

Many post-traditional students have transfer credits

The majority of post-traditional students who enroll online have at least some transfer credits. According to the 2019 Online College Students report, 87% of undergraduate students brought at least some transfer credits. Of these, more than a quarter had enough credits to qualify for an associate’s degree. 

Meanwhile, 51% of undergraduate students and 70% of graduate students who enroll online are employed full time. They are trying to fit online learning into an already busy schedule that includes work, childcare, and other responsibilities. These students may not have completed their earlier education, but they don’t want to waste time repeating credits they’ve already earned just to meet your institution’s requirements.

Students who have already invested time and money in their education want to know that they can bring their credits with them. Yet messaging about transfer credits is often mentioned only in passing, if at all, in marketing communications. Institutions should make the acceptance of transfer credits a cornerstone of their marketing messaging when speaking to post-traditional students. Guiding students through the process of transferring credits can help remove some of the barriers that might prevent them from enrolling. 

Competency-Based Learning Meets Student Expectations

Competency-based education, a learning model that rewards students for what they know rather than hours spent learning, aligns with student wants and expectations. Most post-traditional students enroll with a career goal in mind. They want their education to support their work and enhance their careers. 

Post-traditional students can’t and won’t pause their work-life to get a degree. Their education needs to be pragmatic and immediately applicable. It also needs to recognize and reward their existing skills and experience. When students can see how their education positively impacts their work, they are more likely to persist. 

While marketing and enrollment teams cannot implement new learning models for their institution, they can recognize and promote those that already exist. Helping students make the connection between competency-based learning opportunities and their career goals enhances your value proposition. 

Enhance your value proposition

Marketing teams can highlight these advantages of competency-based learning to enhance their program’s value proposition: 

  1. A student only advances in competency-based learning when they prove their ability to apply a skill. That means that competency-based learning tends to be self-paced. This structure works well for students in asynchronous online courses.
  2. The self-paced, skills-based structure can help students complete their education more quickly, so they can earn their credentials and achieve their career goals. There is no need to waste time re-learning what you already know. 
  3. Students can confidently list their skills on a resume or job search profile because their college or university has measured and recognized their competence in those areas. Employers can also be more confident that students and graduates have learned the skills listed. 

Helping prospective students see the value of competency-based education can attract more post-traditional students to your institution. For help marketing to post-traditional students contact EducationDynamics.