Measuring Student Progress in Competency-Based Education Programs


Competency-based education (CBE) focuses on a mastery of knowledge or skills rather than a fixed time to complete a course. This student-centric, flexible approach is an important next step for the evolution of higher education to provide inclusive pathways to credential attainment and in-demand jobs.

While adoption of CBE grows, institutions struggle to find the right metrics to measure student progress and assess their programs. To help support and streamline CBE implementation, this brief offers recommendations on metrics and practices for institutions adopting these programs into their instructional portfolio.

This year, the California Community Colleges CBE Collaborative began building its CBE programs. By fueling the CBE movement across California’s public higher education system, hundreds of thousands of eligible working adults—many of them Black and Latinx—could be on their way to degrees and higher-skill jobs. Such inclusive and equitable policies are critical to strengthening California’s education-to-employment pathway and fast-tracking the state’s economic recovery.

key findings
  1. As competency-based education (CBE) expands in California, institutions need appropriate measures of student progress, not tied to semesters or quarters, to promote student success, improve programs and policies, and benchmark institution performance.
  2. Institutions offering CBE should track student activity extensively, publish expected completion times based on student effort, and work with policymakers to incorporate measures of student progress into California’s emerging Cradle-to-Career Data System.
  3. Prior research points to four measures of student progress in CBE programs: persistence over time, pace (units of learning per time period), completion of a specific number of courses or competencies, and continuous enrollment.
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