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Integrated, Competency-Based Three-Year Model (for bachelor\'s degree completion)

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Each semester concludes with an innovative week-long, credit-bearing \"integrating experience.\" These experiences place students in academic work teams in which they are given challenging case-based problems related to their major. Teaching faculty hold special consulting hours to provide guidance and support to the student teams. 



The posting below looks a one of several models for a three year bachelor's degree presented in the book, Saving Higher Education

The Integrated, Competency-Based Three-Year Bachelor's Degree Program, by Martin J. Bradley, Robert H. Seidman, and Steven R. Painchaud. It is from Chapter 1, The Need for Change: Why some Institutions Will Embrace New Pathways to the Bachelor's Degree. Copyright © 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Published by Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint. 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Teaching Tomorrow's Professor Today



Tomorrow's Academia

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Integrated, Competency-Based Three-Year Model (for bachelor's degree completion) 


The third model employs an integrated, competency-based curriculum approach. A predetermined set of competencies are foundational to the students' educational experience. In addition to the set of competencies, the curriculum is redesigned and integrated wherever possible to maximize student learning opportunities throughout their entire educational experience. Teaching faculty that participate in the program receive an orientation outlining the curriculum design and are mindful of the program competencies, as well as accreditation standards and expectations. Utilizing a collaborative approach, faculty members deliver courses over a period of six semesters (120 credits), with no summer sessions or winter intersessions needed. The content is configured in a way that facilitates collaboration by faculty across disciplines.

The competencies serve as guideposts for the content of all the academic experiences within the curriculum. Because the development of competencies occurs at varying levels of intensity throughout the three years, a key strategy is the use of master planning documents for each academic experience. For each of the educational experiences, an academic plan is developed that details the overarching strategy for addressing the competencies within the experience along with specific implementing activities that the faculty can employ. These academic plans are regularly reviewed and updated as part of an ongoing assessment of the program. The academic plans serve as the basis for the development of model syllabi that demonstrate the relationship between the academic requirements, assignments, and the competencies.

For reasons that will become evident in Chapters 2 and 3, we use the term module instead of course when speaking of the integrated three-year-degree program. Each module that a student takes has an academic plan developed by faculty experts. These academic plans provide a strategic framework allowing faculty, administrators, accreditation organizations, and other interested parties to see how each of the courses in a given semester or year support the program-level competencies and learning outcomes. These academic plans and model syllabi are discussed further in Chapter 3.

Each semester concludes with an innovative week-long, credit-bearing \"integrating experience.\" These experiences place students in academic work teams in which they are given challenging case-based problems related to their major. Teaching faculty hold special consulting hours to provide guidance and support to the student teams.

Integration of academic content throughout the three years is achieved in a number of ways, including program themes, joint assignments across modules and between various disciplines, end-of-semester integrating experiences, and experiential learning opportunities. During the last week of each of the first four semesters, students engage in a team-intensive activity exercising their newly acquired knowledge and skills to address real-world case studies. Each experience focuses on the competencies stressed during the semester and culminates with a formal presentation to the faculty and invited members from the internal university community as well as invited guests.

Accelerated versus Integrated, Competency-Based Models

A major perceived advantage of the accelerated three-year model is that very little curriculum modification needs to occur. In fact, in most instances the curriculum does not change at all. Only the time frame for delivering the curriculum is modified in order to meet the thirty-six-month timetable. So for traditional institutions, launching an accelerated curriculum might be politically feasible although it might not be the most attractive scenario for potential students. Because curriculum changes can be very time-consuming and must navigate various university governance mechanisms, working with a curriculum that is already in place more easily meets faculty needs and stays within many administrators' comfort zone.

On the other hand, designing and implementing an integrated, competency-based, or outcomes-focused, curriculum model requires faculty to collaborate and to be flexible in their pedagogical approaches. An integrated model requires that traditional courses be thought of in new ways, such as modules that are premised upon the principles of student knowledge acquisition and skill development. Further, an integrated curriculum is premised on a set of programmatic and school-based competencies. These competencies influence and in some cases drive the choices of content acquisition, delivery, and demonstration.

Building an integrated curriculum can by its very nature be labor-intensive and will likely meet with resistance at some institutions. On the other hand, creating an integrated curriculum can inspire faculty to collaborate and think of education in new ways, such as placing the student at the center of learning (Barr & Tagg, 1995; Tagg, 2003). Implementing an integrated curriculum also demands that administrators think in new ways regarding programmatic delivery needs such as classroom space, awarding of credit hours, and the coordination of the course registration processes. The curriculum redesign also requires the support of key institutional leaders in order for the curriculum to survive the academic governance process.

Changing the Way We Think about Higher Education

Changing the way we think about the design and delivery of the higher education experience demands that university leaders think in new ways. This means that modules will look different in an integrated curriculum than in a traditional three-credit, one-hour-and-15-minutes, twice-per-week course. For example, faculty may deem it educationally beneficial for students to spend more class time on a particular subject area. Thus the module might be delivered in a two-hour class that meets four days a week over seven weeks as opposed to the more typical two-day-a-week, one-hour-and-15-minute class that meets for fifteen weeks.

Accelerated-curriculum models fit more easily into a traditional administrative mindset because typical tuition and seat-time practices remain undisturbed. On the other hand, an integrated curriculum requires administrative leaders who are willing to break decades of traditional practices in order to create new value for their students. Providing the leadership to promote true innovation is no easy task. As Collins (2001) reminds us, \"good is the enemy of great,\" and many institutional administrators are happy to be just \"good enough\".

One of the clear challenges facing university presidents and other senior leaders is to envision new ways in which to construct the college experience-ways that promote learning and create new value for their students. Successfully meeting this challenge requires a willingness to examine long-held assumptions regarding administrative practices such as credit hours and seat time. Instead, a new focus on learning, competency attainment, and demonstration should drive how we design and deliver the curriculum.

As competition increases, more colleges and universities will look to offer new ways for students to earn a bachelor's degree. The accelerated model will be attractive given that initially, institutions will see the model as a means of retaining tuition income because students will be required to complete the same number of courses. Yet many universities already offer full-time students the option of adding up to one course above the standard load (that is, six instead of five three-credit courses per semester) at no additional cost. These students can shave six courses off the total in six semesters, thereby needing to complete the remaining four courses by some alternative means, such as night school, intersession term, and summers.

In these scenarios, institutions will lose tuition revenue without cutting delivery costs, thus speeding up the downward financial spiral. Many institutions will need more students in order to balance their budget. Thus, many small, less-selective institutions will experience increased pressure to lower entrance requirements as a means of attracting more students. At the same time, these institutions will feel growing pressure from the competition whose size or scale will continue to increase price pressure in the market place-pricing more cheaply for credit courses.

Reducing Price for Students and Costs to Institutions

The integrated, competency-based model will be particularly attractive and useful to small and mid-sized institutions that seek to enhance current enrollments or that are interested in attracting new enrollment segments. In the subsequent chapters, readers will learn how institutions can launch an integrated, competency-based program that reduces delivery costs.

This book puts forth an already proven model of a three-year integrated, competency-based curriculum that by design offers students a faster pathway to graduation while protecting tuition revenues. This model significantly reduces delivery costs by integrating content and focusing on learning outcomes and the attainment of program competencies. Philosophically, the act of learning supersedes seat time. This model eliminates unnecessary redundancies within the curriculum, and it adds semester-ending credit bearing summative experiences. This model does more than rearrange existing curriculum; it leads to a complete redesign that enables institutions to pass along a 25 percent savings to students and their sponsors. It is a win-win for all concerned.

The integrated, competency-based model offers a legitimate response to the criticism of the continued high expenses of postsecondary education. Addressing the issue of cost while improving quality will prove to be the formula that saves many colleges and universities over the next several decades. But will institutional leaders be able to leave their comfort zones and challenge many of the basic assumptions that American higher education has held on to for so long? It seems to be clearer now than ever before that institutions need to embrace new practices or pay the ultimate price for their lack of will.

As the knowledge economy continues to rapidly expand, college graduates will need new skill sets in order to participate and successfully compete. Colleges and universities can and should play a central role in the preparation of citizens but only if the institutions have rethought the way that students acquire, tie together, and demonstrate new knowledge. Compartmentalized and silo-driven learning, so often redundant, is no longer meeting organizations' needs in today's global marketplace. The integrated, competency-based model that is discussed in detail in this book offers a proven approach that answers the growing chorus of concerns being expressed by business leaders, government officials, students, their sponsors, and academicians. The learning process can and must change in ways that improve its effectiveness while offering a clear solution to the continued escalating tuition crisis.

Three-Year Degrees in a Global Context

Today, there still remains substantial confusion as to what a three-year degree equals when comparing degree programs of various countries from around the world. For example, some believe that a three-year bachelor's program in the United States would be similar to degrees long offered in Europe and other countries globally. Although it is true that many Europeans can and do earn their bachelor's degree in three years, it is important to note that these students have participated in a system that requires thirteen years of elementary and secondary education: examples include the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy. Indeed, in these instances the European model introduces students to many components of general education/liberal arts before they begin their bachelor's degree work. As a result, the bachelor's degree earned in Europe can be much more technical or professionally focused. Yet educators in the United Kingdom are quick to point out that the graduates of the system are equally if not better prepared for a well-rounded life, given the rigorous exit examination process that is required of all students.

In Europe today, forty-seven countries have agreed to the Bologna Process, a nongovernmental initiative designed to provide students with a more standardized or common educational experience (European Higher Education Area, 2011). One of the proposed benefits of the Bologna Process is to improve transferability of students' educational experiences across Europe. However, in some parts of Europe, students participate in a twelve-year elementary and secondary experience as opposed to the thirteen years of pre-university education. The harmonizing that is sought through the Bologna Process will be tested in these situations. Yet if the Bologna Process is successful, some have suggested that such a shift in educational strategy will assist Europe in regaining its educational might. In order to achieve the aims of the Bologna Process, countries will need to adopt common frameworks and measurable learning outcomes (Gaston, 2010).

In India, liberal arts degrees and courses receive less emphasis than subjects in technology, engineering, and business. Earning a bachelor's degree in technology or a bachelor's degree in engineering (both of which are four-year programs) provides students with a strong technical foundation. Students who then go on to earn an MBA from a different university compete strongly in the professional marketplace. Still, many three-year bachelor's degrees are available to students, such as the Bachelor of Commerce, Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Arts. However, U.S. institutions often require students with these degrees to complete an additional thirty credits of general education in order to earn a U.S. bachelor's degree.

The educational approach in India has been influenced by the rapid growth of that county's population. Because of the many thousands of outsourced jobs that have come to India from around the world, there is a premium on the development of technical skills and practical applications.

In Southeast Asia, the educational systems continue to show the influence of other nations: the British system in Malaysia, the French system in Vietnam, and the U.S. system in both Thailand and China. With that said, there remain fairly significant differences in the specific educational practices employed around the region. For example, outcomes assessment is not often used to demonstrate educational success. Rather, country-wide proficiency examinations have been used for decades in order to determine which students will have access to limited university educational opportunities. More recently, countries such as Thailand and China have placed greater emphasis on advancing their university-level educational systems in order to compete more effectively in the global economy.

Educational systems vary from country to country and have been developed and shaped over many decades by a multitude of factors including governmental structure, economic need, cultural norms, and political beliefs of the ruling party. What seems to be clearer today is that world leaders see the importance of strengthening regional educational systems in order to advance the opportunities that come with increased globalization. These proposed alliances have exciting possibilities, particularly with the Bologna process, given that one of its core focuses is on developing measurable outcomes. This approach will be discussed as this book examines the details of the integrated curriculum model and its reliance on competency demonstration (Keller, 2008; Wildavsky, 2010).


Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995, November/December). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change, l3-25.

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Keller, G. (2008). Higher education and the new society. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

European Higher Education Area. (2011). About the Bologna Process. Retrieved from

Gaston, P. (2010). The challenge of Bologna. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Wildavsky, B. (2010). The great brain race. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.