AAI's C3Be Supports Development and Implementation of Jayhawk Flex, Enhancing Higher Education Accessibility

Wed, 06/26/2024


Alicia Marksberry

It is well known that attending and completing college can come with barriers. The most common being the cost, but even with the funds, getting a degree can come with many other roadblocks, especially for non-traditional students. The time it takes, the inflexible schedules, the location, the lack of or inadequate disability accommodations. The current systems in place at institutions of higher education are often not designed to address these issues. But what if they were?

Jayhawk Global is a hub that supports cutting-edge and non-traditional forms of learning established to “formalize and expedite the process of launching a robust portfolio of educational offerings designed to increase student enrollment and generate revenue, with an immediate priority focus on the development and delivery of online degree programs.”

Jayhawk Global houses Jayhawk Online, Jayhawk Continuing Education, Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute (KFRTI), and Jayhawk Flex, the most recent offering.

Jayhawk Flex is a program that brings competency-based education to the University of Kansas with the goal of making higher education more accessible to all. Supported by the Center for Certification and Competency-Based Education, which is housed under both the Achievement & Assessment Institute and Jayhawk Global, C3Be states that for a program to be considered competency based, it must have well-articulated competencies and learning outcomes; authentic and aligned assessments; time and access to content; and engaged learning.

By following these principles, Jayhawk Flex is preparing to offer five online competency-based master’s degree programs, the first of their kind at KU, beginning in Fall 2025. Jayhawk Flex is specifically being created to address some of the roadblocks of higher education, according to Julianna Stockton, Associate Director of C3Be.

“Jayhawk Flex will support learners who, for whatever reason, don’t find the traditional model of higher education is appropriate for them,” Stockton said. “All Jayhawk Flex programs will be online, asynchronous, competency-based degree offerings where learners progress through competencies at their own pace instead of signing up for semester-long classes. The competency-based model of Jayhawk Flex allows learners to progress as they’re ready.”

By making these programs online, flexible, and completely asynchronous, KU hopes to attract and retain students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to complete degree programs. For example, a Jayhawk Flex program will allow a single parent working full-time, an individual transitioning out of the military, or any other learner to get a degree from anywhere, at any time, and at their own pace.

The five degree programs were chosen to be the inaugural Jayhawk Flex programs based on workforce needs in Kansas and the United States as a whole. Three of the inaugural programs will be housed in the School of Education and Human Sciences and include a master’s in learning design; a master’s in Designing for Equity, Justice, and Innovation in Education (DEJIE); and a STEM teacher preparation program. The School of Professional Studies will house the master’s in project management and the master’s in human and organization performance effectiveness, or HOPE.

Development of Jayhawk Flex began in February 2023 and includes a large and diverse team of over 100 experts from across the university including faculty, administrative staff, university leaders, and technology specialists within six work “strands”: (1) Steering Committee, (2) Business Processes & Systems, (3) Student Journey Supports, (4) Policy & Regulatory Compliance, (5) Information Technology, and (6) Curriculum Development & Learning, all supported by staff from C3Be. The project is highly collaborative with each strand being essential to the success of Jayhawk Flex.

Members of the Jayhawk Flex Steering Committee include the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara Bichelmeyer, Assistant Vice Provost of Jayhawk Flex and Director of C3Be Diane DeBacker, and Vice Provost of Jayhawk Global and Director of AAI Neal Kingston and the leads of each of the other five strands.

The strands meet regularly with faculty and staff to build the Jayhawk Flex program. Each degree program has a core team of three faculty who are from the academic department offering the subject matter. They act as the principal authors of the program and the central content experts. Meanwhile, C3Be supports the program design, which includes a backward design process.

C3Be, which was founded in 2021, houses experts in competency-based education, research, and program design. Because of this, it is perfectly positioned to do the work. 

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that C3Be was created to do exactly this. C3Be’s level of expertise in competency-based education will ensure Jayhawk Flex is successful,” Kingston said. “Additionally, the team’s dedication to working closely with faculty and staff is exceptional. I don’t think we could ask for a better team to be working on this project.”

Because Jayhawk Flex is a unique initiative, part of the team at C3Be will be researching the progress and outcomes of the project to document its efficacy and impact on learners. The program developers and the researchers are working in tandem to deliver the best programs not only for students, but also for faculty and staff.

Cheryl Wright, a lecturer in the School of Education and Human Sciences, is a faculty member on the team developing the DEJIE master’s program. Wright said that working together with C3Be and others from across the university has been key to the success of the programs.

“It is definitely a collaborative effort. There are various background experiences that are brought to the table, and we all center our thinking on what is best for our learners,” Wright said.” I appreciate seeing the big picture, but I also am seeing the details and how we are part of those details. I did not realize beforehand how much of an opportunity we would have as individual learners or scholars to share our voices.”

Jayhawk Flex is especially well suited for the Edwards Campus’ School of Professional Studies, which already serves many transfer and non-traditional students.

“The Edwards Campus and the School of Professional Studies are especially focused on workforce needs, which aligns well with competency-based education. We often say, ‘learn it in class tonight and use it at work tomorrow.’ The nature of learning in a competency framework is to focus on given topic and demonstrate mastery of a skill though an authentic learning assessment like a simulation or case study, which is well aligned with preparing students to excel in the workforce,” said Amy Neufeld, Associate Dean of the Edwards Campus.

“One of the things that resonates most with us about working with Jayhawk Flex and C3Be is their commitment to student access and student success. The competency-based programs have the opportunity to reach a subset of students that may not otherwise be able to consider a KU degree,” Neufeld said.

C3Be expects the Jayhawk Flex umbrella to continue to expand beyond the original five degree programs and believes that other higher-education institutions will look to KU when implementing their own competency-based programs. DeBacker said that it is thanks to support from KU leadership that C3Be is able to help make KU a leader in competency-based education.

“From the provost to Neal Kingston as the director of AAI, the support from the university has been tremendous. KU is built on traditions that many of us have benefited from, but they are also forward thinking with competency-based education knowing these programs will attract new learners,” said Diane DeBacker, Founding Director of C3Be and Assistant Vice Provost of Jayhawk Global. “It’s been an incredible place to make competency-based education come alive. I'm excited for what this will do for people who have never thought that a higher education degree was for them and for the future of learners across this country and the doors this will open for them.”


Wed, 06/26/2024


Alicia Marksberry