About Us

Competency-based learning (CBL) includes structured and unstructured opportunities for learning and the assessment of learning—both self-created and those designed by employers, educational institutions, and training providers—that are aligned to workplace-relevant competencies. Examples include modules offered by institutions of higher education; prior learning assessments; military credit; other work-based learning, apprenticeships, and returnships; industry certifications; and government licensures.

Competency-based education (CBE) provides structured learning opportunities that are designed by postsecondary institutions and lead to recognized educational credentials. They are created by backward design from a disciplinary perspective on what a credential holder should know and be able to do and are assessed authentically. Examples include Direct Assessment programs and non-Direct Assessment CBE programs. Taken together, CBL and CBE have the potential to provide access to economic opportunity, through a postsecondary credential, for more learners.

For more information, please refer to AIR's CBE/L definition.

Despite CBE’s growing popularity in postsecondary education, additional research still is needed to address unanswered questions and ultimately inform the actions taken by policymakers, practitioners, and students.

Our work includes the following:

Research icon
National Research Collaborative on Postsecondary Competency-Based Education and Learning
Survey icon
National Survey of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education
Capacity icon
Postsecondary Competency-Based Education Student Outcomes Research and Capacity Building

Research Agenda

The National Research Collaborative on Postsecondary Competency-based Education and Learning’s research agenda, which was developed with input from a range of stakeholders across the CBE and CBL landscape, focuses on answering key questions that advance the field and build evidence for CBE and CBL. The research agenda is continually updated and is based on lessons learned from completed projects and developments in the field.

Our priority areas of inquiry are centered on building foundational knowledge for the field, supporting a better understanding of the CBE and CBL program design, and developing knowledge about public perceptions. Key research topics include the following:

Current Landscape icon
Foundational Knowledge
Understanding the landscape, efficacy and equity, and quality measurement
Efficacy and Equity icon
Digging deeper into how programs are designed and implemented
Quality icon
Public Perceptions
Gauging stakeholder perceptions and understanding policy implications


 For more details on research question topics, download the National Research Collaborative 2019 Research Agenda.

Our Team

Kyra Martin
Kyra Martin

Kyra Martin is a research assistant at AIR who is focused on postsecondary education and workforce development. She currently supports projects involving career training, CBE/L, and postsecondary student success.

Jessica Mason

Jessica Mason is a researcher at AIR with expertise in postsecondary and higher education. Her current areas of focus include postsecondary CBE and student success initiatives.

Kelle Parsons

Kelle Parsons is a senior researcher at AIR who is focused on postsecondary and higher education. She currently leads research projects related to postsecondary models of CBE, postsecondary student success initiatives, and organizational change in postsecondary settings.

Mark Hatcher
Mark Hatcher

Mark Hatcher is a research associate at AIR who is focused on postsecondary and higher education. He currently supports research, evaluative, and administrative tasks on projects related to CBE, postsecondary student success initiatives, and workforce preparation at minority serving institutions.

Our Partners

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. The foundation envision a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. Lumina's goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy.

The National Research Collaborative is supported by a generous contribution from Lumina Foundation.

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization that focuses on conducting and applying the best behavioral and social science research and evaluation towards improving peoples’ lives, with a special emphasis on the disadvantaged.

AIR's CBE research is affiliated with the Center for Applied Research in Postsecondary Education (CARPE) at AIR. CARPE tackles postsecondary education's most pressing challenges by generating actionable insights that are grounded in practice and informed by research. We leverage our extensive experience working in postsecondary institutions and partnering with practitioners, policymakers, and students to ensure our work incorporates important context and nuance. Our experts apply the best, most innovative methods in collecting data, conducting research, evaluating programs, and building capacity to spur continuous improvement. And we translate and synthesize what we discover from practice, research, policy, and evaluation to engage and advance the field.

Our work in postsecondary CBE builds evidence about student outcomes in CBE and provides tools to program leaders and researchers to support local evaluation and continuous improvement efforts.

The Competency-Based Education Network is a group of regionally accredited colleges and universities working together to address shared challenges to designing, developing, and scaling competency-based degree programs. Lessons and updates from the group’s collective efforts will be shared here in the future.

Eduventures® for Higher Education Leaders provides primary research, analysis, and advisory services to support decision-making throughout the student life cycle. Building on 20 years of success in working with education leaders, Eduventures forward-looking and actionable research is based on proprietary market data and advisory services that support clients at both strategic and operational levels. Our recommendations and personalized support enable clients to understand the top traits of leaders in critical disciplines and evaluate the opportunities presented by new technologies.

Advisory Board

The NRC’s Advisory Board is a group of key leaders from across the CBE and CBL landscape. The Advisory Board plays a key role in setting the NRC’s research agenda and driving its work. Specifically, the Advisory Board advocates for evidence needs; shares important insights from the field about aligning research to those needs; uses knowledge of higher education policy and practice to inform the NRC’s goals; and champions efforts to build the field of CBE and CBL research.

Advisory Board members come from a range of settings, including institutions of higher education, research organizations, policy organizations, and vendors that support CBE and CBL work in postsecondary settings. Our Advisory Board includes:

Nate Anderson, Jobs for the Future (JFF)

Alli Bell, Ph.D., Three Arrows Up

Deb Bushway, Ph.D., Consultant

Laurie Dodge, Ph.D., Brandman University

Frank Essien, Lumina Foundation

John Hausaman, Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission

Eric Heiser, Ph.D., Salt Lake Community College

Natasha Jankowski, Ph.D., National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA)

Robert Kelchen, Ph.D., Seton Hall University

Becky Klein-Collins, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL)

Stephanie Krauss, Jobs for the Future (JFF)

Amy Laitinen, New America

Mark Leuba, IMS Global Learning Consortium

Charla Long, Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN)

Howard Lurie, Eduventures

Lisa McIntyre-Hite, Ph.D., Pathstream

Sandy Paxton, Ph.D., Ohio Department of Higher Education

Julie Peller, Higher Learning Advocates

Russ Poulin, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)

Terrel Rhodes, Ph.D., Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U)

Carlos Rivers, Texas A&M University-Commerce

Wendy Sedlak, Ph.D., Lumina Foundation

Louis Soares, American Council on Education (ACE)

Karen Solomon, Ed.D., Higher Learning Commission

Jason Tyszko, US Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Contact Us

We encourage you to contact us to learn about the conversations your colleagues are having around competency-based approaches to teaching and learning, make connections with other researchers, and even get involved in the collaborative as a research partner. Or, let us know what would be helpful to your research as you embark on your own project or work to use research and data in your practice.

Some examples of questions you might consider asking us include:

  • How are researchers approaching student and institution level metrics, such as retention and completion, in CBE programs?
  • Where can I find literature, frameworks, tools, and other resources to support my work?
  • How are CBE researchers gaining access to data and navigating other challenges associated with researching CBE programs?

Please get in touch with us by completing the form below, and one of our team members will respond to you as soon as possible.