Students often come up against statutory barriers that limit their options for education and training programs. For example, online competency-based education (CBE) provides faster and more flexible access to higher education. However, many higher education institutions struggle to offer online CBE because of legislative and regulatory frameworks that were built around the notion of a standardized credit hour model. Similarly, graduating students may encounter unnecessary barriers to entering their chosen profession, depending on the licensure standards in their state. Unnecessary licensure hurdles in each state can inhibit a student’s path to a career as well as a state’s ability to meet workforce needs.
COVID-19 caused many states to begin eliminating these barriers, at least temporarily, and in doing so underscored how unnecessary many of these bureaucratic regulations are and how much can be gained by increased flexibility. Before COVID-19, one-third of today’s 20 million students were taking at least one course online. The pandemic forced all students, from preschool through higher education, to abruptly become online learners. The deployment of high-quality CBE to scale can be a proven higher education solution to meet critical needs for both individuals and society, especially when delivered online, and legislative and regulatory frameworks that unnecessarily impede the deployment of online CBE should be eliminated. In healthcare fields, COVID-19 led to licensure flexibility as doctors and nurses moved from state to state. We should continue to press forward with lasting occupational licensure reform to continue meeting workforce needs. Students need reforms and regulations that make sense and provide flexible options to benefit them right where they are today, to open doors to educational opportunities and pathways to careers.
As learning must be enabled everywhere, so should the credential or license gained be recognized everywhere. Students need relief from costly and duplicative requirements in order to practice their professions. COVID-19 has heightened this imperative, with many states breaking down barriers to professional licensure, at least temporarily, in many healthcare fields to meet critical frontline workforce demands. State leaders must continue to streamline occupational licensing to ensure a more mobile and effective workforce.
Policymakers must ensure credentials retain relevancy wherever opportunities exist, even across state lines. This can be accomplished through increased and enhanced licensure compacts, more effective reciprocity agreements, and reduced institutional burdens to seeking and obtaining duplicative state-level programmatic approvals that hinder paths toward licensure and opportunity. States should expand the use of interstate compacts and reciprocity agreements for any licensed field—starting with those in-demand occupations whose barriers to entry include a nationally recognized, normed assessment of competence. Immediately, Nurses Licensure Compact should be expanded to all 50 states and a Teachers Licensure Compact must be created.
Additionally, using the State Authorization for Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) as an example, policymakers can reduce barriers and eliminate duplicative approvals to ensure better mobility. California, the lone holdout, should be encouraged to join SARA. State legislation can also be enacted to require licensure boards to recognize out-of-state occupational licenses., This type of work should be expanded on state, regional, and national levels to ensure states can meet critical needs and demystify occupational licensure requirements across state lines for all students, workers, and employers.
As a pioneer of its use, WGU has demonstrated the value of competency-based education, meaning individualized learning that allows students to demonstrate content proficiency, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning, both in higher education or in other phases of a learner’s educational journey. However, far too often CBE is misunderstood and weighed down by outdated laws or absent legislative or regulatory frameworks.
Policymakers need to understand not only the benefits of CBE to students but also the legislative and regulatory hurdles that often stand in the way of realizing those benefits. State and local leaders can swiftly and easily provide immediate relief by updating regulations for CBE students.
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Cherie was determined to make a better life for her and her children, Cherie enrolled in a local nursing school, earned her associate’s degree, and with the encouragement of family, went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree that fit her lifestyle at WGU. In just six months, Cherie completed 69 competency units and was well on her way to finishing her degree. Cherie now works as a nurse in the Baltimore area while pursuing her MBA in Healthcare Management at WGU.