Creating Connections: Competency-Based Degree Programs and Undergraduate Capstone Courses for Adult Learners


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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Undergraduate adult learners need flexible, cost-efficient ways to increase knowledge, enhance skills, or complete a college degree. The rising cost of college tuition coupled with the demands of work/life balance challenge many individuals seeking a higher education degree. As such, higher education administrators and faculty members need to identify new approaches to learning in higher education that address these barriers and open the access to earning a college degree. Capstone courses connect prior learning in coursework with real-world experiences. By providing learners with the opportunity to create capstone projects around personal and professional interests, a more meaningful experience is gained for the adult learner.

This presentation addresses competency-based degree plans and application-based capstone courses for undergraduate university students. Examples of competency-based degree plans and capstone courses will be discussed. Inclusion in the discussion will be prior learning assessment courses. Testimonials from learners are provided along with a model for designing an effective capstone course for undergraduate adult learners.


Carolyn Stevenson teaches the bachelor's capstone in the professional studies degree program and also serves as a faculty advisor. She oversees numerous innovations in curriculum, including competency-based degree programs. She previously worked in publishing for 5 years before going into higher education teaching and administration. She has been cited for her expertise in online learning, open educational resources, and prior learning. Stevenson is also a reviewer for conference papers and has served on various offices and committees for the American Education Research Association. Research Interests: Dr. Stevenson was the recipient of the 2016 Bruce Chaloux Scholarship (Online Learning Consortium), 2008 Best Paper Award (Distance Learning Administration), and received several professional development awards from Kaplan University. She volunteered as the Director of Education and developed an environmental education program for high school students in Chicago Public Schools for SeaTurst, an environmental NGO, and attended the UNFCC meetings in Warsaw and Lima. She also developed and In addition to environmental education and sustainability, her additional research are forced migration and refugee economies, social integration, and qualitative research. Dr. Stevenson also currently serves as Associate Editor International Journal of Technologies and Educational Marketing (IJTEM) and International Review Member for Advances in Educational Marketing, Administration and Leadership. Past involvement in professional organizations include: Serving as Co-program chair (2010 – 2013): Qualitative Research Special Interest Group for the American Education Research Association; a committee member for AERA Division D: Research Methods for the Early Career Award (2013- 2014); Member: NAGC (National Association of Gifted Children), 2003-2005; member Association for Women in Communications (2007-2014); served as Clarion Awards Judge 2008 -2010 and member of the national marketing committee.

Extended Abstract

The Associate’s and Bachelor degrees in Professional Studies (ASPr/BSPr) are excellent options for adult learners looking to enhance existing skills and/or complete a degree.  Purdue University Global (PG) addresses a growing trend in competency-based education and the need to create affordable, flexible learning options for adult learners. PG has reduced the economic barriers allowing individuals to pursue learning to enhance their academic and professional interests. The implications for institutions of higher education lie in establishing ways to improve access and reduce cost for individuals pursing higher education with a design to meet academic and professional needs.

Featuring a monthly subscription-based tuition, PG extends the current open courses offered by the University to learners who are interested in seeking a degree, as well as responds to the increasing accessibility of other open learning resources. The Professional Studies degrees are geared toward adult learners interested in a highly flexible degree and who have prior learning experience or college-level credits. 

Professional Studies degree learners are encouraged to:

•           Assess for their prior learning and college credit

•           Define their learning goals in academic and career term

•           Identify the remaining credits needed

•           Find the open education resources that, coupled with PG’s support and assessment, will fill the gap toward the degree

This flexible approach to higher education aligns with the needs of adult learners who are often limited in terms of time and financial resources to complete their degree. The Professional Studies degrees are competency-based degree programs which is a growing trend in higher education. It takes a campus community to promote student success. Through collaboration across all of Purdue University Global (PG), there is a collaborative effort to engage faculty across the disciplines in supporting student success. EL206 and LRC100 allows students to build an experiential learning portfolio, and potentially earn college credit for that prior learning, relying on evaluations from faculty who are subject matter experts. Professional Studies degree students may use the Portfolio Assessment of New Learning (PANeL) to  document college-level learning acquired from resources such as open educational resources, Open Educational Resources (OERss), video courses, textbooks, etc. to gain the knowledge and skills needed to meet the outcomes of a course described in their Individual Learning Plan (ILP). A PANeL is a portfolio created by the student that houses evidence of college-level learning that is both developed by a subject matter expert, and will be assessed by a subject matter expert - to potentially award college credit for a PG equivalent course.