Lumina National Research Collaborative Research Agenda

  • Jones, Willis (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


Many higher education constituents believe that competency-based higher education (CBHE), broadly defined as courses and programs of study which give college credit to students based on subject knowledge rather than clock hours spent in the classroom, has the potential to help address some of the biggest challenges facing postsecondary education. The U.S. House of Representatives (Fain, 2017), Department of Education leaders (Mendenhall, 2012), and several prominent foundations have shown support for CBHE (Kelchen, 2015). Even individuals on very different sides of the political aisle like former U.S. President Barack Obama (Lederman & Fain, 2017) and former Texas Governor Rick Perry (Perry, 2013) have advocated for the increased utilization of competency-based learning approaches. Unfortunately, CBHE appears much more frequently in news stories and political discourse than academic journals. American Institutes for Research notes that despite its growing popularity, CBHE lacks a strong research base. This project looks to help in the building of a more robust CBHE research base. Using data from Learn on Demand (LOD) courses within the Kentucky Community & Technical College System (KCTCS), the proposed project will answer the following questions: 1. What background characteristics increase the probability of student enrollment in competency-based college courses? 2. What background characteristics are associated with the academic performance of students in competency-based college courses? 3. Controlling for other factors, what is the class-level academic performance of students enrolled in competency-based courses relative to the academic performance of students in similar courses offered in traditionally structured face-to-face formats? Each of these research questions fit within the National Research Collaborative’s research agenda on competency-based learning approaches. While many colleges and universities are offering or plan to offer competency-based classes (Porter, 2016), little is known about who enrolls in these classes (Kelchen, 2015). Research question 1 helps identify who is currently being served by competency-based classes and whether competency-based classes are accessible to students from underrepresented communities. Research question 2 helps address questions about the efficiency and equity of competency-based learning approaches. To design competency-based courses that are beneficial to all students, we must know the factors most strongly associated with student success in these classes. Unfortunately, very little quantitative work has been done identifying what students are most successful in competency-based classes. Research question 2 will add to our knowledge in that area. Research question 3 extends the work of Parsons, Mason, and Soldner (2016) in asking a critical question related to CBHE: Are students in competency-based classes as successful as students in traditional courses? The Parsons et al. (2016) report focused on student outcomes at a program level. This study will explore student outcomes at the classroom level using propensity score matching to help address the challenge of constructing valid comparisons between students in competency-based classes and students in non-competency-based classes.
Effective start/end date9/1/196/30/20


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