Competency Based Higher Education

The Honorable Betsy DeVos
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos,

On behalf of the nation’s governors, we write to encourage the U.S. Department of Education to provide Congress and state leaders the opportunity to work together on clarifying and modernizing federal laws related to competency-based education (CBE). In a higher education setting, CBE allows institutions to measure student progress through learning outcomes, rather than time in a classroom. Unfortunately, existing statute has not been updated to reflect the value of CBE and other innovative models. Governors are currently engaged in thoughtful debate on this topic with our partners in Congress, and we request that you avoid taking any action that may preemptively impede this important work on behalf of students and institutions.

A recent audit by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) labeled the majority of courses at a CBE-centric institution, Western Governors University, as “correspondence courses.” The audit is based on antiquated statutory definitions that fail to recognize the value delivered to students though CBE, an educational model with the potential to enhance—rather than diminish—the student experience through utilization of state-of-the-art technology. CBE also offers the opportunity to place the needs of many student populations, including working adults striving to advance their careers, at the center of an individualized learning experience.

We ask that the U.S. Department of Education not move forward with the audit’s recommendations. Instead, allow governors to continue working with Congress to modernize a federal framework that supports technological advancements, high-quality educational outcomes and next-generation approaches to learning. These very issues are being debated as part of a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and preemptive action on CBE models would only harm students and hinder innovation.


Governor Jay Inslee
NGA Education and Workforce Committee

Governor Dennis Daugaard
Vice Chair
NGA Education and Workforce Committee