May 7th & 8th, 2014 Salt Lake City was again host to a bevy of WCET’ers, gathered to discuss how we in higher education can adopt, adapt and administer high quality credentials in new ways utilizing tools like competency based education, badges and prior learning assessment. What follows are highlights of the agenda, however, recordings of the main panels are available on the Summit page along with a considerable number of resources.

Day One

Panel: Defining Alternative Pathways

Photo by Daniel Oines via CC
Photo by Daniel Oines via CC

Karen Solomon, vice president, accreditation relations, Higher Learning Commission served as the moderator, setting the tone for the panel that they would be sharing the broad perspective of what defining alternative pathways means at a higher level than individual institutions.

Sally Johnstone, vice president, academic advancement, Western Governors University shared these key points:

  • Competency-Based Education (CBE) is pervasive across education– it’s flipping the relationship between time and learning.
  • CBE puts the student at the front of the learning – it’s enabling individualized learning.
  • When planned and implemented properly, CBE can lower the costs and keep them lower, as well as sustainable across time.

Next we heard  from Mary Alice McCarthy, senior policy analyst, New America Foundation.  Her key points:

  • Competency: A clearly defined & MEASURABLE statement of knowledge, skill or ability.
  • Title IV regulations require mapping competencies back to credit or clock hours make it very difficult to do non-course based CBE.
  • Institutions need to gather more evidence of the effectiveness of their CBE programs.
  • Competencies are a unifying currency for credentials, increasing inter-operability between credentialing systems.

Finally for this panel, Iris Palmer, senior policy analyst, National Governors Association shared their perspective:

  • How do you start to move the perceptions of what ‘college’ is? How do you move these conversations at the policy level?
    • If you have to change the way policymakers view higher education, you have to change the way the public sees higher education.
  • The ‘state of the state’ is that there is not a lot of conversation happening, most states are warily eyeing CBE.
  • Unbundled faculty role can be scary for faculty who have no idea what it will look like, what it will mean for them.
  • Good examples are:
    • Kentucky: statewide model of a technology platform.
    • Texas: informing the state legislative bodies on CBE developments.
    • Wisconsin: communications are so important – including differentiated messaging for the audiences (faster, cheaper is better when you’re talking about the business side of the institutions, but it’s not the message you want to send to faculty or students who prefer a quality education).

During the Q&A, David Porter (@dendroglyph) posed the question via twitter, “When will we agree that flexible education models that include #cbe #oer #badges are part of the future HE trajectory?#wcetsummit14

Panel: Innovative Models

This panel, moderated by Patricia Book, WCET Fellow, highlighted the lessons learned by five model programs. Here are the highlights from each talk, outlined by speaker.

Alison Leigh Brown, associate vice president, academic affairs, Northern Arizona University

  • Technology makes it possible to assess everything, track everything in CBE programs, however Alison reminded us that we must include the human element as well.

Greg Fowler, chief academic officer and vice president, academic administration, Southern New Hampshire University’s College of Online and Continuing Education

  • In designing CBE programs maintain your focus and determine your ‘non-negotiables” from the very beginning.
  • Focus on student success and don’t try to ‘outdo’ other businesses (i.e. Don’t try to out-Facebook Facebook.)

Al Lind, vice president, innovation and e-learning, Kentucky Council on Post secondary Education

  • Adjuncts are paid per student, and set the number of students they are willing to have in a course, in KY.
  • CBE programs in KY offered 24 hour advising…it became so popular they expanded it to all students. This advising has been outsourced to Blackboard.

Laura Pedrick, executive director, UWM Online, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

  • Many CBE programs are targeted to specific student populations.  For the Flex Program, their ‘sweet spot’ are returning adults who have some credit but no degree and some work experience.
  • In designing CBE programs, be sure to engage the library – librarians know to package the learning resources most effectively.

Linda Schott, president, University of Maine at Presque Isle

  • Personalized learning changes everything!
  • Used brain/cognitive science to help make the case for CBE  to faculty.

Panel: Campus Infrastructure Issues

Hae Okimoto, director, academic technologies, University of Hawai’i system, invited panelist and the audience to grapple with consideration of the infrastructure needs which need to be filled to successfully implement CBE on campus.

Christi Amato, student support lead, TAACCCT Grant, Sinclair Community College

  • The top considerations for implementing CBE are:
    • What will the culture of the institution support?
    • Are there already natural ‘owners’ of the functions for CBE?
    • Who will own the student experience? CBE is an inherently solitary path and students need to be supported to be successful.
    • How will data support the desired outcomes of the CBE program?

Robert Collins, vice president, financial aid, Western Governors University

  • Involve your financial aid office early in the planning process.
  • The language around what qualifies a student for financial aid are complex but boil down to three touchpoints for students – admitted, enrolled and making satisfactory academic progress.

Peter Janzow, open badges lead and senior director of business & market development, Pearson

  • Used the analogy of travel as a parallel for CBE: the digital world supports travelers well – GPS, travel agents, multi-modalities, BYOD, social, sharing.
    • Humans bring their academic ‘baggage’ to education just as they bring luggage for travel.
    • In CBE, you have to support the whole human, not just the student.
  • Badges are empty containers that need to be filled with competencies and achievements.
    • Help students articulate to an employer their competencies and achievements, making outcomes more transparent.

Michael Reilly, executive director, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)

  • In planning CBE, it’s important to consider the electronic transfer of credentials. Involve your registrar in the process.
    • 42% of students who earn their first credential transferred at least once.
  • Be prepared to translate learning outcomes into a conventional format.
  • Don’t forget to consider ‘special populations’ like dual enrollment students and returning veterans in developing your CBE program.

Moderated Discussion of top issues

Karen Solomon, vice president, accreditation relations, Higher Learning Commission, helped wrap up day one by moderating a discussion of the top take aways from the two break out sessions.  Highlights include:

  • Need to create value for learners through clear translation to credentials & by making CBE affordable in means of not only tuition money paid but the time & opportunity costs to students.
  • Most destructive phrase in any innovation, including crafting CBE: We’ve always done it that way.
  • Student Information Systems (SIS) are a focus for CBE, the Learning Management System (LMS) is not so much of an issue.
  • Badges have been implemented in many different ways
    • connects those who are looking for employment and employers based on badges necessary to perform the job.
    • BadgesforVets connects employers with veterans looking for work by matching badges vets have earned based on their military service.
    • The Badge Alliance – a network of organizations and individuals building and enhancing an open badging ecosystem
    • Videos from the Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials MOOC/community are available on the WCET YouTube page.
  • There are concerns about ground level pedagogical issues – how it is done and how mastery levels are determined.
  • The question was raised: What happens when we find out something that’s good for the student is not good for the institution?
  • One A-ha! Moment shared: Think of CBE as less of a threat to either online or on-campus learning and more as another modality option.
  • Key needs addressed by CBE are learning validation & context translation/relevancy for broad career portability.

Day Two

Panel: Important Alternative Models for Best Serving the Student

Mary Alice McCarthy, senior policy analyst, New America Foundation served as the moderator for the morning session on day two in which panelists shared their  models – from badges to prior learning assessment and proprietary exams that translate into credit for students and what employers think of these models.

Carla Casilli, director, design and practice, Badge Alliance

  • Badges are stackable lifelong credentials and ways of mapping learning pathways connecting formal and informal learning.
  • OpenBadges is software developed by Mozilla which allows badge earners to store the meta-data that backs up their badges such as criteria, issuer, issue date, expiration date (if any), evidence URL and more.
  • The Badge Alliance is an outgrowth of Open Badges and is framed on a constellation model of working groups to develop the ecosystem that spans across subjects and a lifetime for students.

Grady Cope, president, Reata Engineering

  • Modern manufacturing has jobs, but many jobseekers don’t realize that they are no longer ‘smokestack’ jobs- they are more like a 3D environment seen in video games, but real.
  • For employers, credentialing of technical skills is important, but so is credentialing of skills such as teamwork, problem solving, leadership, critical thinking.
  • Involve employers as advisors to help shape programs, to ensure they meet the employers’ needs.
  • Can we better match student vision with industry need through CBE?

Steve Ernst, vice president, innovation and strategy, Excelsior College

  • Excelsior operates under the philosophy “What you know is more important than where or how you learned it.”
  • Excelsior uses a variety of models including: prior learning assessment, credit by exam, CBE, and online courses – all models leverage a common learning outcomes and competency framework.

Nan Travers, director, college- wide academic review, Empire State College

  • Empire State allows students to design their own degree within 13 areas of study.  All outcomes-based and PLA can be applied to any part of their degree.
  • Empire State participates in Open SUNY which gives all SUNY students access to online, 100% competency-based programs with open textbooks and OERs.
  • The State University of New York Center for the Recognition of Experiential and Academic Learning (SUNY REAL) will evaluate learning regardless of where, when, or how you acquired it as long as you can document your learning and it can be verified at the college/university level.

Panel: Business of Designing Alternative Pathways to Credentials

Jane Nichols, interim vice president of academic affairs, Truckee Meadows Community College moderated this panel exploring the key business models that have enabled new approaches to work in colleges.

Alison Leigh Brown, associate vice president, academic affairs, Northern Arizona University

  • NAU Personalized Learning is a subscription model – students can earn as much as they want in each six month period.  The model can sustain because they have unbundled both the faculty and student services roles – able to serve more students, better.
  • Involved faculty & student services from the beginning in an agile design model –short meetings with both sides involved.
  • Be obsessive compulsive about documenting everything.  Create orientation tutorials/videos for every role involved in the process.
  • The best recruiting tool is word of mouth from students.

Van Davis, director, higher education innovations, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

  • Texas has implemented the $10,000 baccalaureate and is stepping up effortst o help students who have college credit but no degree.
  • Education affordability is a civil rights issue.
  • CBE programs are expensive to start but after 5 years, in part due to scalability, they are in the black and start-up expenses are recouped.
  • Administrative and IT systems infrastructure are often the tail wagging the dog – legacy systems.
  • TX uses humans to do what humans do best and leverages technology & predictive analytics to improve affordability.

Greg Fowler, chief academic officer and vice president, academic administration, Southern New Hampshire University’s College of Online and Continuing Education (COCE)

  • Keep your egos in check. Stay clear about your mission – everything doesn’t need to be fixed.
  • Define a culture and protect your brand. Understand your mission & the environment in which you’re operating. Live your brand.
  • Academic quality is critical, but so are support services – most cited by students as critical to success.  Understand that academics will never be top priority for most of your students – it’s third at best – 1. Family 2. Job. Life is going to happen.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – some things are not going to work.  To enter the CBE field, you must also be comfortable with ambiguity & failure.

Al Lind, vice president, innovation and e-learning, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

  • Higher education’s weakness has always been in its business models.
  • KY Council on Postsecondary Education used a loan model, like a business start up would, for its CBE offerings.
  • Adjunct faculty who teach in the KY programs are paid on a per student basis (and set the number of students per course) and are paid bonuses for performance.
  • KY is bundling course materials with tuition for CBE programs.  Students were trying to pass courses without the materials –it wasn’t working.
  • Suggests those of us pursuing CBE programs read the Innovator’s series by Clayton M. Christensen, a noted author on the management of innovation and change.

Heard in the breakout discussion groups…

  • Degrees aren’t always translatable. What does it mean? What can you do and understand?
  • Liberal arts need to be woven into the hard skills based coursework towards CBE.
  • How do you build a reputation around a credential? Trust is a human factor.
  • Is cannibalization an issue? Are you training faculty just to have them swooped up by other institutions looking to implement CBE?
  • Great question: What is needed from doctoral granting institutions in order to produce the type of faculty we need to run CBE programs? (No one had gone there yet, but it intrigued the group.)
  • Degrees mean something. Degrees are not meaningless but they are not meaningful either.
  • Accreditors look to make sure that the plan is full embedded – that the strategy has been accepted throughout the ranks and is not a giant tree being held by a single root.
  • Fear of change was a common theme when discussing resistance to CBE.
  • Greg Fowler: When we say change, we think progress. When faculty hear change, they think correction (i.e. “what I’ve been doing is wrong.”)
  • Darcy Hardy: Discussing faculty fear: This is the same list as when we started online ed in 1998!

Closing Session: Recap of the Summit in Your Voice: The Most Interesting and/or Useful Takeaways

Peter Smith, senior vice president, Kaplan Higher Education Group lead this discussion with the whole group.  Rather than recreating the wheel, please view the live-blogged notes from Karen Solomon via padlet on this session.


CBE summit wordle 3Where do we go from here?

We welcome you to continue the discussion here on the Frontiers blog, through our members-only discussion list, on social media and in-person in Portland, OR this fall for the 26th WCET Annual Meeting November 19 – 21, 2014.  Thank you to all who attended, enhancing our conversations with each of your unique perspectives and to our fabulous sponsors who make these conversations possible.  Additionally, I’d like to thank the following WCET’ers for sharing their notes with me, to help make this summary as comprehensive as possible – Patricia Book, Pat James Hanz, Mollie McGill and Megan Raymond.


See you in Portland!

Photo of Cali Morrison

Cali Morrison
WCET, Manager, Communications
Support our work.  Join WCET.

2 replies on “Glimpse into WCET Leadership Summit: Designing Alternative Pathways to Credentials”

What a terrific update! I had been tasked with providing notes on the meeting, and had some thoughts, but basically, you just did the work for me, much better than I could, with names, resources, everything. Great Job, Cali!

Thanks for this comprehensive review of the summit, Cali!

I arrived at the summit unsure about the whole idea of CBE–not sure I liked the idea much. I related to the conceptual foundation that competencies form a basis for accountability, because I taught in a career-technical program for many years. In our program, each course had competencies to be met, but they were traditional courses with a certificate and/or degree attached. I also thought that we didn’t need “no stinkin’ badges”. I was wrong.

I left the summit with a much better understanding of the variety of programs that could be developed around CBE, that institutions could create these options as just that, additional options, and that students could definitely benefit! I noticed that Cali reference an important thing to consider when thinking about CBE, this approach can easily be one of several at an institution: traditional rtf, “traditional” online (isn’t that funny), and CBE ( both online, hybrid, and rtf).

I learned that the idea of badges with meta data (information attached), could provide students with not only skill verification, but confidence chips, as they journey through their educational life. Additionally, I was reminded about what it felt like to put “course work” at a particular institution on a job application with no attached degree completion. That looked like I hadn’t finished something, when in fact, I had obtained some valuable information from those stand alone courses!

I think, for me, the timing couldn’t have been better. My own daughter is a single mom (the dad is not in the picture even) who has been making a fairly decent living for herself and her four year old son by working in a sales call center. What she says after four years at that job is that there is nothing for her to aspire to and no way to change the day-to-day. She has tons of skills, but no education beyond high school, despite my efforts to provide for that!

As I reflected on on the summit, which highlighted a very non-traditional approach to educating the students of this country, I understood my daughter’s situation better and saw an opportunity for her to grow and develop through this approach.

When I came home I expressed my enthusiasm for badges and CBE to a couple of colleagues who poo-pooed the idea of badges as being trivial and related to boy scouts. I understand their reaction because they don’t know about the meta-data that verifies the badging effort and I agree that I wish there was another word for “badge”. My hope is that their minds will change as they learn more about the idea, mine did. My colleagues are amazing and forward thinking so I know that we will grow into this idea. I am not so sure about everyone in academia.

If we all could just get out of our own academic comfort zones a little bit, consider the student need scenarios for all students, not just the academic top tier, we could really change the lives of so many Americans who we are not adequately serving now.

Patricia James
Chief Professional Development Officer for the California Online Initiative (interim)
and grateful WCET Fellow

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