Owens Backs Pioneering Bill: A New Frontier in U.S. Education

WASHINGTON – Higher Education and Workforce Development Chairman Burgess Owens (UT-04) joined Reps. Glenn Grothman (WI-06) and Brittany Pettersen (CO-07) to introduce the Empowering Learners through Competency-Based Education Act, which will assist universities in cultivating learning environments that will allow students to learn at their own pace, called competency-based education (CBE), in an effort to more quickly lead young Americans to meaningful careers and less student loan debt.

“To build and maintain the greatest economy in the world, America needs to align our education standards with our workforce demands,” said Chair Owens. “This bill addresses fundamental issues plaguing our nation’s higher education system, providing a much-needed departure from an unaffordable, inflexible, and outdated structure that does not benefit students. Colleges across the country are beginning to challenge the traditional credit hour model and emphasizing skills mastery as a more relevant metric for academic progress, and it’s working. This legislation represents the forward-looking approach needed to close the skills gap, connect employer needs with employee competencies, and inject a bold approach into how we develop future generations of Utahns and Americans that will stand the test of time.”

“Making sure our students receive the best education possible to prepare them as future leaders of the country has long been one of my top priorities,” said Rep. Grothman. “Ensuring students have educational options that do not leave them with a mountain of debt is equally important. I am excited about CBE programs because they take into account each student’s individual learning style and reward them based on their understanding of course material. Additionally, students often complete courses more quickly, reducing the time needed to take out student loans. The University of Wisconsin’s CBE programs have been a great success, but many other universities run into barriers when setting up their own CBE programs. My bill provides the framework schools need to set up and expand CBE programs that will be available and effective for students. I urge my colleagues who don’t know about CBE to learn quickly because CBE programs can help students master course material more quickly while taking on less debt.”

“Students learn at different paces, but a one-size-fits-all higher education system fails to cater to this fact. This bipartisan bill will create more options for those seeking higher education by fostering learning environments that allow students to self-pace and develop specific skills and knowledge in a shorter timeframe,” said Rep. Pettersen. “As a mom, I want my son, and every kid, to have as many options as possible when they graduate high school. This bill will not only give more flexibility to students, but will also help us combat the student debt crisis by creating affordable options for those wishing to enter the workforce.”

“Our postsecondary education system is outdated, too expensive, and far too bureaucratic,” said Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC). “Competency-based education is the type of innovative reforms we need in postsecondary education. This knowledge-based model rewards students for their mastery of the subject, not for how many hours they sit in a classroom. CBE keeps colleges and universities from becoming degree mills and instead helps students acquire the skills and competencies needed to be prepared for a successful career. By measuring students’ success through the competencies acquired in their program, students may be able to speed up the time it takes to get through the program and into a job. This will strengthen our workforce and do much to solve the skills gap and labor shortage that is preventing our economy from reaching its true potential.”

Specifically, the Empowering Learners through Competency-Based Education Act would:

  • Define CBE programs to better enable institutions to develop this type of educational model.
  • Require the Department of Education to collect, verify, and make publicly available important program outcomes information on CBE programs, including the percentage of students completing these programs and being employed within six months.
  • Establish a CBE demonstration project at the Department of Education to assist institutions in developing CBE programs, while also disseminating reliable information as a result of this demonstration for further evaluation to enhance the understanding of CBE.

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