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How Competency-Based Education Contributes to a Healthy Democracy

The pandemic has brought many shifts and innovations to the higher ed space. One of the most significant is the more widespread adoption of competency-based education, which gives students the tools they need to gain employment, develop healthy relationships and make educated decisions for themselves. 

In light of the tumultuous and violent current events in the United States, it is imperative to consider ways to prevent them from re-occurring in the future. Competency-based education (CBE) programs in higher education can play a role in creating a more peaceful, productive society. They give students enrolled in these programs the tools they need to be successful in the workforce and have healthy relationships with family, colleagues, and friends. Disinformation and mental illness are rampant in our country, and education plays a significant role in making individuals more information literate and self-aware.

Competency-based programs allow students to work toward degrees at their own pace. They can progress through them quicker than average programs if they are diligent and motivated. Individuals can also enroll in programs at any time and replace classes with previous work experience and college credits. Because of the way these programs are designed, thousands of students can be enrolled in a program with a lower overhead than traditional classes. These courses are also much more reasonably priced than others. Often, employers such as Walmart or Chipotle will pay for these degrees as an employment benefit. The reason these factors are so important, especially now, is that people are losing their jobs at an exponential rate during this global pandemic. Industries are quickly disappearing, and new ones are arising in lieu of new policies and mindset shifts among the public. When someone loses their job and their skillsets are no longer relevant, they need to quickly acquire new skills and degrees in order to survive. I have one student who worked her way up to an executive role in her company. As a result of the pandemic, she lost her job and cannot get a new one since she does not have an undergraduate degree. She knows that completing this CBE program is crucial to her success.

Social media and the Internet have allowed disinformation to spread quickly and widely, and this has proved to be more dangerous than ever. The seditious acts at the capitol on January 6th, 2021, are a prime example of this. If more of our citizens were able to decipher what information was true and what was false, these types of violent acts would happen much less, if at all. I teach information literacy, and it is incredible to see students’ mindsets shift when they learn how to verify information. Prior to attending this course, students often are used to searching the Internet and believing the first article displayed. When they learn how to find credible information, they become more confident and empowered. Information literacy is not only important for our nation’s safety, it is also important in the workforce. When employees know how to find reputable information, they make better decisions, which translates to improved morale and often more cost savings.

Our country is going through a major mental health crisis, which is seen at our upper echelon of leadership, and it has been exacerbated during the pandemic. Many people are isolated, health care workers are overwhelmed, and individuals are losing their livelihoods. Some courses in the CBE program I teach in at Brandman University include interpersonal communication and behavior and cognition. These competencies help students gain tools to improve their relationships and become more self-aware, which are essential components to becoming more productive members of society. Our professors and academic advisors often develop supportive relationships with students as well. Calbright College, the CBE-based community college in California, also provides students with mental health assistance through a program called Wellconnect. When people gain the skills needed to obtain jobs, it gives them the confidence and financial wherewithal to be mentally healthy.

The positive effects of quality education that many CBE programs offer ripples through our society. I see examples of this every day while working with students. One student I worked with is using the organizational theory and behavior class he is taking in order to start a group in the military to make punishment less racially biased since people of color are punished more often than white people. Another student was recently chosen to lead the diversity initiative at his workplace. He is using the diversity course to help him find ways he can make a positive difference in his new role.

There is misleading information everywhere. Bad actors put a lot of effort into spreading falsehoods in order to divide us and do their bidding. If someone is unable to see the truth, they are susceptible to being taken advantage of by individuals with ill intent. A student recently told me she thinks that everyone in our country should take an information literacy course in order to be able to vote. She was so enthusiastic about being better equipped to find credible sources. People need to be able to decipher what is true and what is not in order to make savvy decisions at the voting booth. Well-educated citizens are crucial to democracy in the United States.


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