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Aurora Institute

Kentucky’s Commonwealth College – United We Stand

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Allen Lind

Issue(s): Federal Policy, Modernize HEA

Allen Lind
Allen Lind

This post originally appeared at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) on December 17, 2014.

Commonwealth College is a statewide bachelor’s degree completion program in high-demand occupational areas for adults in an online, competency-based format at Kentucky public universities.

The seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky consists of the words, “United we stand, divided we fall,” and the image of two diverse people clasping one another. That is the spirit that is incorporated into the implementation of our competency-based education initiative called Commonwealth College.

I for one did not see it that way during an early organizing meeting with leading national experts on CBE. We all agreed that a single isolated entity should be responsible for CBE bachelor degrees in Kentucky. Clay Christenson had explained in The Innovators Dilemma, Disrupting Class and The Innovative University that it is easier to change a culture like higher education from the outside, rather than from within where tradition would trump innovation.

However, through a series of events Kentucky was prepared to involve all eight public four–year institutions equally in a special legislative appropriation of $5 million to launch Commonwealth College. That is until an eleventh hour evaporation of the $5 million. A strange and wonderful thing then happened. Collaboration broke out.

The University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University, with coordination and support from the Council on Postsecondary Education, were compelled to continue with their own resources albeit on a smaller scale. Why is not entirely clear, but I believe some of the reasons include:

  • Momentum had built up and was hard to stop.
  • Commitment from a small group of people ready to proceed.
  • The Kentucky public two-year institutions at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System had already demonstrated a successful model of collaborative competency-based associate degrees: Learn on Demand.
  • Demands from the business community.
  • Political leaders still desired it.
  • Kentucky’s history of leadership in emerging education policy.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported our collaborative approach with a Next Generation Learner Challenge – Breakthrough Model Incubator award.
  • It is the right thing to do.

The University of Louisville, with leadership from Provost Shirley Willihnganz and Associate Provost Gale Rhodes, will offer an Organizational Leadership and Learning degree with an emphasis in Healthcare Management.

Western Kentucky University, with leadership from Provost Gordon Emslie and Associate Vice President Beth Laves, will offer an Advanced Manufacturing degree.

The Council on Postsecondary Education, with leadership from Senior Vice President Aaron Thompson and Senior Academic Advisor Cheryl King, will provide coordination and the support of its Kentucky Virtual Campus infrastructure.

The original vision of all eight public four-year institutions participating is still alive. After the first two degrees roll out in 2015, it is hoped that Commonwealth College will scale with additional degrees from all eight institutions.

The common Guiding Principles that define Commonwealth College are that it:

  • Meets the needs of adults who started college but did not graduate.
  • Meets the needs of Kentucky employers.
  • Offers statewide nonduplicative degrees in high-demand occupational areas.
  • Benefits from ongoing employer input and involvement.
  • Uses a common brand and marketing strategies.
  • Offers clear pathways from KCTCS Learn on Demand programs into baccalaureate programs.
  • Offers credit for prior learning based on CAEL principles of effectiveness.
  • Allows students to learn at their own pace.
  • Provides personalized coaching.
  • Makes it easy and convenient to enroll, transfer credits, make payments and purchase course materials.
  • Uses a common Web portal with program, course and enrollment information; real-time employment and workforce information and data.
  • Includes 365/24/7 student support and career services.
  • Utilizes a collaborative platform among Kentucky public four-year institutions on which to build degrees that drive student enrollment .
  • Strives to offer high quality degrees at reasonable and affordable subscription-based tuition rates.

So while it will not be an easy path, we will persevere to collaborate across the university structure, across two-year and four-year institutions and across business relationships to provide working adults with a united higher education experience.

That’s the spirit that is sealed into the Commonwealth!

Allen Lind is the Vice President of Technology and eLearning for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. His areas of responsibility include eLearning, P20 state data warehouse, and state data networks. Related organization web sites include: Kentucky Virtual Campus –, Kentucky Virtual Library –, Kentucky Learning Depot –, Kentucky Regional Optical Network –, Kentucky educational Network –