Competency-Based Education, Flexible Options at NICC Meet Public Need

Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) has developed new initiatives designed to offer students more flexibility when earning their certificate, diploma, or degree. Education and training options at NICC reflect the needs of learners in northeast Iowa, their lives and experiences.

Flexible learning options, such as Competency-Based Education (CBE), shorter online courses and Credit for Prior Learning, allow students more freedom when planning their course schedules around family and work responsibilities. NICC also offers short-term training Career Pathway Certificates that students can complete in just a few months to develop skills for well-paying, entry-level employment.

CBE options at NICC are currently available for students in the Welding diploma and the Business Administration certificate and degree programs. CBE programs focus on mastery of course concepts and information, not how long it takes to learn it. Students set their own deadlines and move through courses at their own pace. This allows students to advance quickly through material they already know and take more time on challenging concepts, according to Lindsey Haas, CBE success coach.

CBE divides coursework into a sequence of modules that are delivered online through the College’s Learning Management System, Brightspace. NICC instructors guide students through each competency by providing feedback, support and educational resources. In addition, students in career and technical education programs like Welding schedule time in the open welding lab to complete hands-on work at a personalized pace.

Shorter Classes, No Textbooks
NICC offers eight and ten-week online courses, later start courses and “Z-degree” courses throughout the academic year that save time and money for students. These online courses typically start several weeks after the beginning of each semester allowing students time to enroll at different times during the year instead of a full-semester, 16-week course. Z-degree courses are online and require no textbooks or fees; NICC students use free open educational resources as part of their learning.

Students who want to train for a different career or advance in their current position may enroll in Career Pathway Certificate programs at NICC. These short-term training programs have variable start times throughout the year, and can be completed in two to six months. Students who are employed during the day or who have family commitments can attend training and hands-on lab times when it works around their schedules.

For more information on these learning options visit the NICC website at or Learn more about Career Pathway Certificate options at

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