This report presents findings from the 2020 National Survey of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education. The 2020 survey is the third in a series done by the American Institutes for Research. Our goal is to understand the national landscape of postsecondary competency-based education (CBE) and give stakeholders an assessment of the field to inform their actions. Key topics include perceptions of CBE, interest in it, and progress in its adoption and implementation. 


The 2020 survey shows that, despite major disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CBE programs continue to grow, and institutions continue to show optimism about its future. In some cases, however, pandemic-related shifts in operations appear to have affected institutions’ interest in CBE.

This report presents findings related to four key topics:

  1. CBE adoption: Which institutions are adopting CBE, what are their motivations for doing so, and what pathways to adoption do they take? How has the pandemic affected adoption?
  2. CBE programs: What do we know about the structure and scale of programs?
  3. CBE students: How are the programs serving students?
  4. Barriers, facilitators, and the future of CBE: How do institutions view the potential to implement and scale competency-based education?

These findings suggest that CBE’s value proposition remains compelling for most institutions, perhaps even more so after the disruptions of 2020. However, barriers and pressures persist. These impediments—especially those related to internal business processes and costs and to external regulation—may hinder adoption.

The report concludes by raising key questions regarding CBE. For example: How did institutions alter their approach to CBE during the COVID-19 pandemic? Is CBE seen as a solution to some of the challenges highlighted by the disruptions of 2020?