Competency Based Education

Competency-based education (CBE) is a flexible way for students to earn a degree or certificate that replaces traditional, semester-based courses with demonstrations of competency in their discipline as a way for a student to earn a degree or certificate.  SWC's CBE degree and certificate programs serve a diversity of students, especially returning students who are already on the job in their career field, by offering them a way to complete their program at their individualized pace that acknowledges the abilities and experience they already possess. Students in CBE programs learn by doing, often through project-based demonstrations of knowledge, skills, and abilities. CBE students receive individualized attention from SWC's knowledgeable and caring faculty who act as coaches and mentors as students progress through the program. 

What is a Competency?

A competency is a knowledge, skill, or ability that a student can perform to show they have mastered the concepts and skills needed for a discipline and to be successful in the workplace. For example, a Nursing degree program may list "collaboration and teamwork" as a competency since these are crucial skills for a student to master to be successful as a nurse and to work in a medical service setting.  Interrelated competencies collected together make up a program of study. Students who are assessed at the highest levels of performance have "mastered" a competency and can move ahead in their program more quickly than a traditional program.

What is Competency-Based Education (CBE)? 

CBE is a flexible way for students to get credit for what they know and to build on their knowledge and skills by learning more at their own pace.In a CBE program, students do not attend class on specific days and times; but instead students work individually with faculty coaches who help them progress at the pace that works best with their lives and abilities. Faculty observe, assess, and measure a student's performance of a competency to determine that student's progress and to award course and program credit.  CBE students can earn high-quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials that help them in their lives and careers.  Competency-based education is still new to community colleges in California, so check out the brief video below provided by the Competency-Based Education Network for an overview of CBE.

What is Competency-Based Education? from C-BEN on Vimeo. 

How Does CBE Work?

CBE at Southwestern is a direct assessment program. This means that students do not enroll in classes; instead they enroll in the program and are connected with a team of faculty coaches who provide instructional materials and support for students through distance education. There are no set dates and times a student must attend class, and the faculty provide individualized instruction and support based on each student's needs. These faculty help students develop competency in defined areas relevant to their degree or certificate including content specific to the program and general education competencies. When a student has demonstrated to faculty they have achieved a mastery level in all the program's competencies, the student is awarded their degree or certificate.    Students in a CBE program earn their degree or certificate at their own pace, based on the time they need to demonstrate mastery of all competencies. 

How Do I Know if CBE Is Right for Me?

All students can benefit from a CBE approach; however, students who might benefit most from the CBE approach are students who have spent some time developing their skills by working in an industry or through other experiences such as military service.  For example, imagine going back to school for an Accounting degree after spending years running a small daycare center in your home or a landscaping business. The odds are strong that you’ve picked up on some of the basics of bookkeeping and other fundamental concepts. In a CBE program, you have the opportunity to prove your knowledge in these areas immediately, breezing by those lessons and moving one step closer to graduating in a way that recognizes the skills you already have. 

The CCCCO Direct Assessment Competency-Based Education Collaborative

Southwestern College was selected along with seven other community colleges in California to participate in a pilot program to develop and implement a competency-based education program by Fall 2024. Since June 2021 faculty, classified professionals, and administrators have worked to complete homework assignments required by the Collaborative to move us along in the development of the program. As a pilot college, the CBE Project Team meets monthly to provide direction to the Core Project Team as essential aspects of the CBE program are developed and implemented. Check out our CBE Project Team and CORE Team Membership Roster for more details. Minutes of the SWC CBE Project Team meetings are available in BoardDocs and using the links below.

 CBE Project Team Meeting Minutes June 15 2021

CBE Project Team Meeting Minutes July 20 2021

CBE Project Team Meeting Minutes August 17 2021

CBE Project Team Meeting Minutes September 21 2021

CBE Project Team Meeting Minutes October 19, 2021

Next Meeting: Tuesday March 15, 2022 

screen capture of the CBE Project team's meeting on Zoom in June 2021

Members of the CBE Project Team met on June 11 2021 to discuss the benefits of CBE to SWC students and what programs would be a great fit for CBE at Southwestern.