The Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) is at the forefront of a new national initiative to provide experiments for redesigning federal student aid policies that can inhibit higher education innovation, including alternative approaches to teaching and learning. KCTCS is part of a small group of institutions nationally that has been working in preparation for the U.S. Department of Education’s announcement of the opportunity for experiments that would test new ways of accelerating and encouraging the achievement of student learning outcomes through high-quality, rigorous competency-based delivery models.
Competency-based education is focused on student learning and the application of that learning, rather than time spent in class/on material. Progress is measured by evidence that students have mastered the knowledge and skills required for a particular area of study, regardless of how long it takes. Competency-based education represents a unique opportunity for students who face barriers to traditional higher education models, including family responsibilities, costs and time to completion. Those most likely to gain from the competency-based model are working adults, students from low-income families, first-generation college students, and racial and ethnic minorities.
Based on the work done so far by KCTCS and other participating institutions, the first step in the new initiative is for colleges and universities to submit competency-based program ideas to the Department of Education. The Department is especially interested in testing ideas that could improve student persistence and academic success, result in shorter time to completion, and reduce students’ reliance on loans, especially among lower-income students and students who struggle academically.
“The Department of Education announcement of soliciting idea opens the door to request permission to redesign our financial aid rules and processes for use with our competency-based academic programs, such as Learn on Demand, an online program, and a future new option called Direct2Degree,” said James E. Selbe, KCTCS special assistant to the Chancellor and the director of Direct2Degree. “Our goal is for students to move toward a high quality degree faster and at potentially significant cost savings. This could be a tremendous opportunity for Kentucky adults who have been unable to access higher education to finally pursue a degree.”
Public support for competency-based innovation also is strong. A 2012 Gallup/Lumina Foundation poll found most Americans agree that earning a college degree is important for financial security, but many lack an education beyond high school due to the barriers in traditional, time-bound higher education. Of those surveyed, 87 percent said they believe students should be able to receive college credit for knowledge and skills acquired outside of the classroom, and three-fourths of those polled said if they could be evaluated and receive credit for what they know, they would be more likely to enroll in higher education.
By 2018, 54 percent of all jobs in Kentucky will require some postsecondary training. KCTCS competency-based programs, along with other certificate and degree programs, help people to become educated more quickly and move into high wage, high demand careers.
“These types of programs allow KCTCS to effectively meet the needs of Kentuckians who are time or place bound and offer them an opportunity to achieve their educational aspirations,” Selbe said. “Ultimately, it is about helping Kentucky’s adults secure a better education that can lead to better employment.”