Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Jane Jensen


Competency-based education is intended to benefit working non-traditional students who have knowledge and skills from prior work experiences, but it also enables self-motivated students to accelerate their time to degree, thereby increasing affordability and efficiency. Competency-based education clarifies what a credentialed student will be able to do and makes assessment more transparent and relevant to those outside of higher education. Competency-based education has arisen in response to the problem defined by the national reform discourses of accountability and affordability.

In the first manuscript, History & Objections Repeated: Re-Innovating Competency-Based Education, I review the history of social efficiency reform efforts in American education in order to re-contextualize the “innovation” of competency-based education as a repackage of older ideas to fit the public’s current view of what needs to be fixed in higher education. I discuss the concept of “efficiency” and how it has been interpreted in the past and today with regard to competency-based education and its rejection of an earlier attempt at increasing efficiency in education: the Carnegie credit hour.

For the second manuscript, Framing Competency-Based Education in the Discourse of Reform, I analyzed four years of news articles and white papers on competency-based education to reveal the national discourses around competency-based education. I used thematic discourse analysis to identify diagnostic and prognostic narrative frames (Snow & Benford, 1988) that argue for and against competency-based education. These frames were put in the context of the politicized conversation around the current main issues in higher education: access, attainment, accountability, and affordability. Each of these issues provided a foundation of coding the discourse which was then shaped by the context of competency-based education, particularly its positioning as a solution to the Iron Triangle dilemma of decreasing cost while increasing access and quality.

The third manuscript, Idea and Implementation: A Case Study of KCTCS’s CBE Learn on Demand, involves an institutional case study of a competency-based education program, Learn on Demand (LOD), within the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). Eleven semi-structured interviews were conducted with student success coaches, faculty, and staff who are directly involved with the program across seven different colleges, and documents such as marketing materials, presentations, and administrator-written articles were also analyzed as a representation of the official discourse of the program. As institutions start to explore and develop competency-based education programs, the faculty and administrators at those institutions are likely influenced by the intersection of pre-existing organizational and subgroup culture, societal beliefs about the definition and purpose of education, and how innovations may shape the experiences of individuals. Through interviewing individuals, I was able to parse out the impacts of both institutional politics and innovation-related concerns on the success of implementation.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)