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The University of Texas System makes bold move into competency-based education

AUSTIN – The University of Texas System will be the first in the nation to launch a personalized, competency-based education program system-wide aimed at learners from high school through post-graduate studies.

What sets the UT System approach apart from other competency-based programs is a focus on offering personalized and adaptive degrees and certificates that are industry-aligned and – via technology developed by the UT System – can systematically improve success, access and completion rates in areas of high employment demand. 

“Competency-based programs allow students to advance through courses, certifications and degrees based on their ability to master knowledge and skills rather than time spent in a classroom,” said Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. “All students are held to clearly defined and rigorous expectations, but each follows a customized path to success that responds and adapts based on individual learning strengths, challenges and goals. And students can earn credit for prior learning and move at their own speed.”

The UT System’s groundbreaking competency-based initiative is being developed by its Institute for Transformational Learning in partnership with UT institutions and top faculty experts. Established by the UT System Board of Regents in 2012 and funded with $50 million, the Institute for Transformational Learning’s mandate is to drive student success and access through the innovative use of technology.

“We are developing a new model of education that provides an alternative and potentially accelerated pathway to a UT-quality degree,” said Marni Baker Stein, Ph.D, chief innovation officer for the Institute of Transformational Learning. “Our degree and certificate programs are designed to build on critical skill sets so that students achieve enduring mastery that better prepares them for the workplace of the future.”

The first competency-based programs will launch in the fall of 2015 and will offer STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and medical sciences courses. Texas has significant employment gaps in these fields and the UT System has partnered with industry to ensure curricula align with needed skills. The programs will be offered in flexible online and hybrid formats and will be available to students as early as high school.

To support and power its new competency-based educational pathway, the UT System is working with education technology innovators to create a state-of-the-art, “mobile-first” stack of technologies and services called TEx, which stands for Total Educational Experience.

“Existing technology and learning platforms are great tools to support traditional models of higher education, but our next-generation model requires a different kind of technology solution,” Baker Stein said. “We made the decision to initially deliver TEx on mobile devices to ensure we meet students where they are, with the technology that they are used to. The experience will still be available on the web, but the mobile delivery will allow them to take their education with them wherever they go.”

TEx can continually improve and personalize learning experiences and provide customized, just-in-time support and services, such as advising, coaching and mentoring from the moment students apply to the moment they graduate and gain employment in their chosen career.

TEx will support courses that are fully interactive and adapt to a student’s preferences and ability. For example, a student can learn material through simulations, team-based projects and clinical experiences. Eventually, a student’s path through a course is automatically personalized to his or her needs and learning style. And the content presented to the student is adjusted to meet the current level of mastery.

Beyond fully online courses, TEx is designed to support a wide range of innovative teaching methods in classrooms, laboratories and in the field that ultimately will provide richer and more accessible content for students while preserving the quality of a UT degree. 

“This is just the beginning of our effort to drive exponential increases in student success,” said Steve Mintz, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute for Transformational Learning. “Because of the broad reach of the UT System and the collective brain trust of our institutions and faculty, we are uniquely positioned to redefine the higher education experience.”

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and an enrollment of more than 213,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $15.6 billion (FY 2015) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With about 90,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.