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Rewiring the System: Providing Educational Solutions that Work in Today’s Marketplace

January 19, 2017

This article was written by Dan Bartell, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, at Sagence Learning, Inc.

About fifty years ago, U.S. higher education began to face unprecedented demand from students seeking college degrees. Now, most people agree that every citizen should have access to post secondary educational opportunities in order to insure economic well-being and personal fulfillment. Many news sources have cited a lifetime earning variance of one million dollars between the high school and college graduate. But the typical college and university student has changed greatly from 25 years ago. The National Center for Education Statistics reports over 50% of college students are over 22 years of age and most of them finance all or part of their education, with 71% having student loans upon graduation. Traditional higher education was never designed to support the kind of programs that are needed to drive the dreams of today’s learners, yet we continue to devote billions of dollars to colleges and universities offering instructional programs and teaching strategies appropriate for just a minority of students and disciplines.

The Educational Challenge

Millions of potential students cannot pursue higher education programs bound to time and place. Thirty million Americans have some college credit but no degree; over eight million of them are looking to advance their careers by building new skills. Because 70% of students now work while they are in school, and 26% have dependent children, many students require education that adjusts to their individual circumstances. These students don’t ask to do partial work; they are not looking to cut corners in their learning or asking for standards to be lowered. They want to master the skills and knowledge specifically required to earn their credentials in order to pursue a dream, a better job, economic stability, or personal fulfillment.

Initially, online education offered a solution based on convenience, eliminating the need to visit a physical campus. But it largely transferred old models of teaching and learning from a physical classroom to a virtual space. New technologies, like the LMS platforms that currently dominate the market, were patterned on the practices of in classroom activity. Yet while flawed, online education refocused educators on the need to seriously consider how students learn, rather than just supporting individual instructor’s teaching preferences. We have experienced a re-imagination of teaching and learning, often based on skill mastery and teaching practices long used by certain disciplines or colleges. Many institutions now realize that competency-based education (CBE) programs and courses would better serve millions of potential students who seek post secondary education. While a good number of new programs have focused on business and education, CBE actually has its roots in health care. Early leaders have also focused on Information Technology programs and disciplines that serve manufacturing. And there are few disciplines where competency-based learning design is not appropriate. This re-imagination, these new programs must be supported by new technology solutions, not by technology designed for traditional classroom use. Colleges, universities, and even K12 schools need a next generation technology platform along with supporting services specifically designed for competency-based learning.

The economy and demands of the job market will continue to rapidly evolve. It is estimated that almost 70% of job openings in 2020 will require post secondary education. 60% of Americans now go to college, yet less then half of those will succeed. It is imperative we provide students with flexible options to help them successfully earn credentials that provide the relevant skills and knowledge needed for today’s jobs and careers. A widely circulated report estimates that over 600 colleges are researching or planning competency-based education programs that allow students to demonstrate mastery regardless of place, time or pace. Yet, too few have launched and it’s high time to move past the planning stage. 


Sagence Learning: CBE Solutions

Sagence Learning provides the technology and services that enables learning institutions to go from concept to creation and delivery. We support competency-based learning models of any scale, from delivery within the credit hour and term structure to direct assessment programs that holistically measure student progress and completion through mastery assessment strategies. Sagence Learning helps our clients align their CBE model to their unique strengths. We provide expert planning and design. We help build, test, launch, succeed, evaluate, and iterate.

Sagence Learning’s next generation learning platform went live in July of 2014 with the launch of Brandman University’s Bachelor in Business Administration program. This program was specifically built for working adults who had already earned colleges credits, had relevant, real world experience, and needed to complete a degree to further their career opportunities. Another partner, Peirce College of Philadelphia, which has served “non-traditional” students since 1865, recently launched a CBE bachelors degree program with a concentration in Networking, Administration and Information Security. In their own words: "There are thousands of people in this region who have been disconnected from opportunity and are on a path that won't lead to a sustainable career unless they can get an appropriate education. They represent a segment of the American population with a huge amount of earning potential that has been generally overlooked by higher education." Competency based education programs can be critical to the economic success of countless potential students.

All along the way, our clients are supported by Sagence Learning’s design methodology, platform, and services to insure competencies are aligned with the skills needed to succeed in the workplace. Their learning paths to competency focus on skills and knowledge that match those demanded by the current marketplace and directly relate to skills that would impress a hiring manager.


Make a Difference

Like fully online programs, the competency-based programs our platform supports are primarily enrolling adult and career focused learners. However, these new CBE programs go beyond the convenience of eliminating the need to visit a campus. They are intentionally designed to continually support and specifically appeal to those who are looking to develop new skills and earn new credentials that will directly lead to improving economic prospects. Competency-based education opens worlds of possibilities to underserved learners pursuing new opportunities. The complete support and the job relevance inherent in competency based education programs will surely make a dent in the 25% drop out rate in the first year of study. 

Sagence Learning is positioned to make CBE programs possible at any college or university, enabling them to provide opportunities to their students to stay in college and complete, win better jobs and create new careers. Our partners have already launched programs where students have earned advanced degrees in education in four months, or completed unfinished bachelor's degrees in accounting or finance. Imagine when our college and university partners launch programs with companies like Google, General Motors, or Lyft to help disenfranchised factory workers acquire new skills and knowledge so that they can create the next generation of driverless cars--in Detroit. Millions of students need a world where they can learn on their own schedules and on their unique paths without being constrained by the artificial deadlines set by traditional time and place-based models. Sagence Learning is already making this happen, helping bring a dream to life for underserved adults where life circumstances can get in the way of education goals and economic aspirations.

CBE: an Evolving Strategy and Commitment

Sagence Learning believes in transforming an educational model that serves too few, too inefficiently, and at too high a cost. Personal investment in post-secondary education is necessary, but $1.3 trillion in ballooning student debt is too much. Competency based education promises to help lower the costs of education, improve learning outcomes, and strengthen students’ motivation and creativity. As pioneers in the creation of competency based education, Sagence Learning excels in delivering opportunities to those least served by traditional higher education. Our partners use our platform and our expertise to develop and customize specific programs to broaden educational opportunities. The outcomes and competencies are absolutely clear and transparent to both the learner and the future employer; the degree is not a black box. Our partners use Sagence Learning to support every learner who wishes to enroll in a program that improves job prospects and supports career aspirations and earnings growth.

As their programs grow, our partners evaluate and revise their programs for maximum impact, insuring the skills developed and knowledge acquired prepare students to win new jobs and to move up the economic ladder. Our platform allows our partners to understand where students excel and stall in their efforts, and they use this knowledge to improve learning in real time. As their programs grow, our partners evaluate the effectiveness of each program through deep analytics, adjusting the programs in real time to improve outcomes. 

Underlying all we do is our commitment to the creation and delivery of relevant, effective, measurable, and learner-driven education solutions. What defines Sagence Learning is the deep passion of its employees to help change the fortunes of all learners. We are steeped in the higher education of tomorrow, with a determination founded by years of experience focused on redefining and reimagining the best of what exists today, dedicated to solving the problems adult learners face. We must expertly support those who will spend the necessary effort, time, and investment required to acquire skills and knowledge that will lead to improved economic well-being. Our biggest collective risk is not listening to those who have been underserved by the current postsecondary education model. Our shared obligation with our clients is to solve the dissonance between higher education and the needs of employers and to provide competency based education programs that offer the most personalized and flexible ways for people to gain knowledge and skills that are aligned with success in today’s workplace.

[1] Ben Miller. “New America Foundation: Breaking With Tradition.” Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014. http://postsecondary.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/New-America-Foundation_BreakingWithTradition.pdf

[2] National Center for Education Statistics. “Fast Facts.” US Department of Education, 2015. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/

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Resources

CBE Network.org

A National Consortium for Designing, Developing and Scaling New Models for Student Learning

CBE Info.org

Discover the impact of Competency-Based Education on higher learning and how to implement CBE programs at your institution

HLC Commission.org

Common Framework for Defining and Approving Competency-Based Education Programs

US Dept of Education.gov

Competency Based Learning or Personalized Learning; Transitioning away from seat time.

Case Study

Evaluating Empire's First Competency-Based Learning Pilot

SUNY Empire State College piloted their first CBL courses. These findings and recommendations are based on the experiences of Empire State’s coach, faculty, technical staff, and student participants.

Read more

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