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ERIC Number: ED566655
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2016-Jun
Pages: 18
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
Innovate and Evaluate: Expanding the Research Base for Competency-Based Education. AEI Series on Competency-Based Higher Education
Kelly, Andrew P.; Columbus, Rooney
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
Competency-based education (CBE) has garnered significant attention lately from reformers and policymakers. Put simply, CBE awards credit based on what students have learned rather than how much time they spend in class. Competency-based programs identify specific competencies, develop assessments to measure mastery of those competencies, and then award credit or other credentials to those students who meet or exceed benchmarks on those assessments. CBE programs give students flexibility to move at their own pace, which could potentially shorten the time to degree and enhance affordability. CBE credentials may also more clearly signal to employers students' knowledge and career preparedness. Clearly, the benefits of expanding access to CBE could be substantial. But, what does existing research suggest about the likely effect of reforms to promote CBE? In this paper, Kelly and Columbus analyzed 380 studies of postsecondary CBE and prior-learning assessment listed in the Department of Education's Education Resources Information Center database. Kelly and Columbus reviewed each study's methodology (i.e., quantitative or qualitative) and topic (i.e., program design, student characteristics, student outcomes, and policy environment). Their analysis uncovered more than twice as many qualitative studies (228 articles) as quantitative ones (102). The studies in this sample tended to focus on questions of design and practice, describing the manner in which providers have identified competencies, developed assessments, and structured courses and programs. The paper concludes with some recommendations for future research. Kelly and Columbus suggest that researchers should use the ongoing expansion of CBE programs as an opportunity to launch a research and development agenda. Specifically, they suggest that researchers work with CBE providers to answer the following basic questions: (1) How do the demographics of students who enroll in CBE compare to those enrolled in traditional programs? (2) What do success rates in CBE programs look like, especially relative to comparable programs? Do students who earn credit via prior-learning assessment perform comparably in subsequent coursework? (3) How do employers view CBE graduates? Do they see CBE credentials as being more informative than traditional degrees? Sketched out is the role that policymakers, philanthropists, and other parties should play in facilitating the rigorous evaluation of CBE programs. An appendix presents Table A1: Full Cross-Tab Analysis of Article Content by Article Methodology.
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. 1150 Seventeenth Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 202-862-5800; Fax: 202-862-7177; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: Postsecondary Education; Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), Center on Higher Education Reform (CHER)