By Megan Walker-Young, Junior Consultant, WGU Labs


It’s the decade of Competency-Based Education (CBE). Educators are aligning student learning with desired professional skills application and outcomes. Different organizations have outlined their CBE guidelines and standards, but the approach your institution takes to implement CBE will be unique – has its own unique “flavor,” if you will. 

How will you approach competency-based learning? Earlier, we discussed CBE as a learning model, but the details of how CBE looks when implemented at your specific institution can vary. Consider these questions to determine how your “flavor” of CBE might look at your institution:


Will You Deviate From Standard Terms and Course Structure? 

CBE allows for more flexibility in course delivery and term structure than traditional learning models, but it can also be embedded within the standard academic calendar. When launching your CBE transformation, it’s vital to determine whether you will be sticking with your typical enrollment calendar, or will you allow for rolling enrollment with varying start dates throughout the year?

Varied start dates (weekly or monthly) and rolling enrollments throughout the year afford some extra flexibility that is characteristic of many CBE models. A major CBE selling point for students is acceleration through their courses: students spend time focusing on areas of weakness rather than following a shared class pace. If you want your programs to allow for acceleration, you may also want to consider your course delivery models. Online programs, for instance, may be more amenable to varied start dates and course acceleration.


What will your grading report style be?

Two common CBE grade reporting styles are pass/fail and a competency scale.

With a pass/fail grading, passing indicates that students have proven the competencies for a course of study. Programs may have a minimum cut score for formative assessments for each section of competencies to pass. On performance assessments, students are given a rubric outlining competencies and the activity requirements that meet each competency. Students must prove competency in each rubric section to pass. This grading style can be especially effective for certification programs or technical degrees.

A competency scale is another popular approach. Competency scales feature benchmarks for performance. For example, some use scales that rank competency with marks of Exemplary (E), Proficient (P), In-Progress/Basic Proficiency (IP/BP), Limited Proficiency (LP), Not-Yet-Competent (NYC), or Insufficient Work Shown (IWS). ‘Exemplary’ is a consistent performance that is above proficiency. ‘Proficient’ is the mark students need to make to prove competence. Schools working on a scale may use a 4.0 system or letter-grade report to equate a GPA for graduates or students transferring to other institutions. This grading style can be appealing for programs that are preparing students for advanced degree programs.


Will You Change Your Tuition Model? 

If you’re switching to a CBE model that allows course acceleration or varied start dates, you might consider changes to your tuition model. CBE programs often allow students to have a minimum enrollment requirement for competency-units but don’t have a max limit for their term. If this is the case, consider how your tuition model might change. Some popular options are to charge flat-rate tuition for full-time or part-time, or charge by competency-unit.

If you’re currently working with a credit-hour based tuition model, a simple conversion can help with your tuition evaluation and conversion; One competency-unit in your CBE program can be equal to one traditional credit hour. You may not need a change your tuition model if you’re following a standard term schedule or allowing accelerated courses with traditional start dates and competency-unit limits.


Which Programs Should Be Converted to CBE?

New industry standards requires that all bachelor’s and master’s nursing programs be converted to CBE, but you don’t have to stop there. If you offer bridge programs such as LVN to RN associate programs, your institution may want to consider converting these as well later.

But what if you don’t have a mandate? Perhaps one of your institution’s goals is to bridge the skills gap as you aim for stronger graduate job attainment outcomes. If so, take a self-assessment. Which programs are most in-demand right now from students and employers? Which companies and organizations are hiring your graduates frequently? Start with those programs first! Creating a CBE model can strengthen your reputation and value with students and employers. 


Your CBE model, calendar, delivery models, grading and assessment styles, and implementation make up your institution’s unique flavor of CBE. Which CBE flavor options are you most excited to adopt?


Want to learn more about CBE transformation? Connect with our Learning and Design team to start your CBE transformation! Learn more at