Competency-Based Learning: A Skills-First Approach to Education

Dr. Doug Jensen, President of Bismarck State College

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What if we valued skills and competencies more than degrees? As President of Bismarck State College, Dr. Jensen sees education as an economic investment, where the skills a student has upon graduation are far more important than degrees and certifications.

A competency-first approach to higher education requires disrupting the traditional model. In this episode, we talk about the components that drive competency-based education, including:

  • How to incorporate credit for prior learning
  • Giving industry partners the freedom to help create and deploy new programs
  • Becoming a polytechnic institution that integrates technology with career-readiness
  • How BILT teams go far beyond the traditional industry advisory board
  • Why education is an economic investment, not a public expense

Quotable Moments:

"A college like Bismarck State is someplace where you will go, where people will believe in you before you're capable of believing in yourself."

"Education is empowering. If you really want to look at preparing somebody for life, you need to empower them. It's not just about degrees, it's about skills, competencies, and knowledges."

"A polytechnic institution starts to train individuals with hands-on real experience, working side-by-side with industry leaders in large flex spaces on projects that they will face in the real world."

3 Big Takeaways from this episode:

  1. Employers are more interested in the skills and competencies of an individual than their degree: In today's skilled workforce, employers are less interested in "what's your degree in?" and more interested in "what skills do you have that can be put to work to benefit our organization?". The distinction is an important one for higher education. As you look to the future of your programs, consider how a competency-based education model will benefit your graduates and industry partners alike.
  2. BILT (Business and Industry Leadership Teams) bring real-world industry challenges to the classroom: BILT teams go beyond the advisory board. Learn about how industrial companies are bringing their challenges to the college, who then helps bring together the best cross-functional teams to devise a solution to that challenge.
  3. Education is an economic investment, not a public expense: Dr. Jensen has a unique perspective on the role of education in driving local economies forward. Hear about BSC's unit cost model, their approach to the ROI of programs, and how they've improved that ROI over the last few years.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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