College choice and competency-based education learner motivations
Morrison, Cali Marie Koerner
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Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in competency-based education, a learning modality which is mastery-based, self-paced and focused on demonstrations of knowledge and skill rather than where or how they were attained (C-BEN, 2016; Cuckler, 2016; Tate & Klein-Collins, 2015; U.S. Department of Education, 2002). The face of higher education is changing, according to NCES (2015), 75% of students enrolled in college have one or more nontraditional characteristics. Recent studies suggest that competency-based education enrollees may fall under the larger non-traditional student population; (Kelchen, 2015; Kelchen, 2016; Kelly & Columbus, 2016). The purpose of this study was to investigate the learners' characteristics, college choice process, and learners' satisfaction with their decision to enroll in competency-based education. This multi-institutional study employed descriptive statistics, correlational research design utilizing ordinary least squares regression analyses, and quantitative content analysis. This study found the typical competency-based education learner is a nearly 39-year-old, married (66.2%), white (84.4%), Non-Hispanic (89.6%) female (70.2%) who has been out of high school for just over 20 years. She lives in a different location than her current institution (68.5%) and has studied at a prior college (95.7%), including study in her current discipline (61%). She is slightly less likely to be a first-generation student (51.2%) than she is to be the first in her family to go to college. She is also more likely to be eligible for a Pell Grant (48.8%) than not. She is employed full time (71.4%), works an average of 38 hours a week and has worked for nearly 10 years (M=9.63, SD=9.28) in her field of study. 88.1% of these learners were very or extremely satisfied with their decision to enroll in competency-based education. The modality, learning goals, and social goals enrollment motivators significantly, positively influenced learners' satisfaction with their decision to enroll. Common themes emerged in the choice process including affordability, career advancement, learning goals, and learning modality. I conclude that each learners' path to CBE is their own and higher education institutions need to place greater emphasis on this learning pathway's knowledge building capabilities rather than solely it's perceived vocational focus.