Measuring mastery, not time: Competency-based learning and the future of higher education - AEI



Event Summary

Burgeoning college costs and constrained public budgets have engendered a national conversation on higher education innovation in the US. Competency-based education (CBE), where students earn credit based on how much they learn rather than how much time they spend in class, has moved to the forefront of this innovation debate.

On Thursday, AEI’s Center on Higher Education Reform hosted an event highlighting three research papers exploring postsecondary competency-based learning. Seton Hall’s Robert Kelchen kicked off the panel discussion by detailing how many students enroll in CBE, their backgrounds, and how much they typically pay for it. Katie L. McClarty of the Pearson Center for College & Career Success next outlined best practices for CBE providers to assess competencies, emphasizing the need for further research linking classroom performance to future educational and occupational performance. Chip Franklin of Parthenon-EY then explained what employers think of CBE, noting that providers could enhance their value proposition by increasing employers’ awareness of the model.

Following the presentations, John Ebersole of Excelsior College called for practitioners and researchers to convene to settle on a long-overdue common definition of CBE to enhance its credibility. Carol Geary Schneider of the American Association of Colleges and Universities concluded the discussion by noting the compatibility of liberal arts education with CBE, and also advising providers to keep in mind that “competency” means the demonstration of learning beyond the classroom, not just scoring well on in-course assessments.
–Rooney Columbus

Event Description

Policymakers have called on American colleges and universities to embrace innovation that can improve higher education quality and lower costs. One solution that has attracted much attention is competency-based education (CBE), where students earn credit based on how much they learn rather than how much time they spend in class. Advocates have touted CBE for its distinct focus on student learning and its potential to free students to move at their pace. While promising, research on the model is limited, and important questions remain.

Please join us at AEI as Center on Higher Education Reform Director Andrew P. Kelly hosts a discussion of competency-based education research, featuring the authors of three new CBE-focused papers and other higher education experts.


3:15 PM

3:30 PM
John Ebersole, Excelsior College
Chip Franklin, Parthenon-EY
Robert Kelchen, Seton Hall University
Katie L. McClarty, Pearson Center for College & Career Success
Carol Geary Schneider, Association of American Colleges and Universities

Andrew P. Kelly, AEI

5:00 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Rooney Columbus at [email protected], 202.862.5902.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Speaker Biographies

John Ebersole has been president of Excelsior College since 2006. Before that, he served as an associate provost at both Boston University and Colorado State University and was an assistant dean and director of strategic planning at University of California, Berkeley, and dean of the School of Management at John F. Kennedy University (America’s first institution of higher education exclusively for adults). All of his nearly 30 years in higher education have focused on the adult “post-traditional” learner. A past president of the University Professional Continuing Education Association, Ebersole was recently selected to chair the Corporate Council of the American Association of Community Colleges. He was also recently inducted into the Hall of Fame for the US Distance Learning Association for his work in online learning, and he has been asked to return to the Board of New York’s Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. His 2011 book, “Courageous Learning: Finding a New Path through Higher Education,” is now in its second printing.

Chip Franklin is a vice president of Parthenon-EY, based in the Boston office, and is a full-time member of Parthenon’s education group. His work focuses on higher education, including colleges and universities, national foundations, policy organizations, and private-sector organizations serving higher education. Franklin leads the majority of Parthenon-EY’s projects with institutions of higher education, working with colleges and universities across the spectrum, from vocational schools to liberal arts institutions, and from independent institutions to state systems of higher education. He also leads both the Boston Higher Education Innovation Council and California Higher Education Innovation Council, gatherings of leaders in higher education to discuss key strategic issues facing the sector.

Robert Kelchen is an assistant professor of higher education in the Department of Education Leadership, Management and Policy at Seton Hall University. His research interests include higher education finance, student financial aid, and accountability policies and has fairly recent articles published in The Journal of Higher Education, The Journal of Education Finance, and the Journal of Student Financial Aid. His work as a methodologist for Washington Monthly magazine’s annual college rankings won an award for best data journalism from the Education Writers Association. He is frequently quoted in the media, including The Washington Post, National Public Radio, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Politico. He has also appeared on the “Marketplace” radio program, KABC radio, and MSNBC.

Andrew P. Kelly is the director of the Center on Higher Education Reform and a resident scholar in education policy studies at AEI. His research focuses on higher education policy, innovation, financial aid reform, and the politics of education policy. Previously, he held a National Science Foundation research training fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, and served as a research assistant at AEI. His scholarly work has appeared in the American Journal of Education, Teachers College Record, Educational Policy, Policy Studies Journal, and Education Next and he has also published in popular outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, National Review, Education Week, and Inside Higher Education. He writes a regular column on higher education reform on Forbes Opinion. He is coeditor of multiple edited volumes, including “Reinventing Financial Aid: Charting a New Course to College Affordability” (Harvard Education Press, 2014), “Stretching the Higher Education Dollar: How Innovation Can Improve Access, Equity, and Affordability” (Harvard Education Press, 2013), and “Getting to Graduation: The Completion Agenda in Higher Education” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). In 2011, Kelly was named one of 16 Next Generation Leaders in education policy by the Policy Notebook blog on Education Week.

Katie L. McClarty, director of the Center for College & Career Success in Pearson’s Research & Innovation Network, leads a team of researchers who plan and execute research in support of the center’s mission, which is to identify and measure the skills needed to be successful in college and careers, determine pathways for students to be college and career ready, track their progress along those pathways, and evaluate effective ways to keep students on track. McClarty has authored papers and presentations related to college readiness, standard setting, assessment design, and talent development. Her work has been published in journals such as the American Psychologist, Research in Higher Education, Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, and Educational Researcher.

Carol Geary Schneider is president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the leading national organization devoted to advancing and strengthening undergraduate liberal education. Under her leadership, AAC&U launched Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP), a public advocacy and campus action initiative designed to engage students and the public with what really matters in a college education for the 21st century. Additionally, under Schneider’s leadership, AAC&U has become widely recognized as both a voice and force for strengthening the quality of learning in college for all students, especially those historically underserved in US higher education. While a vice president at AAC&U in the 1990s, she headed a major initiative at AAC&U on higher education and US pluralism, American Commitments: Diversity, Democracy and Liberal Learning. Schneider has published extensively on all the major areas of her educational work and has taught at the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Chicago State University, and Boston University.

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