Competency Based Colleges

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Are you a working professional who would like the opportunity to advance your education? Are you interested in a flexible degree program that allows you to work at your own pace? Then it may be worth considering a competency-based degree program! While these programs are a relatively new way for colleges to approach online degrees, competency-based education truly puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your education!

Competency Based Colleges

In the past, college was generally considered the first step of your journey after graduating high school. With changing economic times and advancements in technology, higher education has made a shift towards accommodating adults and working professionals who want to go back to school.

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Whether you want to advance your current degree or start down an entirely new career path, online degree programs could be the right choice to pursue your education while still juggling the demands of your busy life. So, what exactly is a competency-based degree program, and how does it differ from traditional schooling?

While this type of degree offers some similarities to a traditional degree or standard online program, there are several unique features that add to its flexibility and real-world applications. To help you gain a better understanding of what this degree program is and whether it will work for you, we’ve put together some basic information and important factors that you need to consider before pursuing a competency-based degree!

The Basics of a Competency-Based Degree Program

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Earning your degree online has become more common over the last several years. In fact, nearly six million students take at least one of their college courses through distance learning!

A competency-based degree program is designed to help working adults and those with family responsibilities balance their busy schedules with the requirements of earning a higher-education degree. It also gives students the highest level of flexibility in completing the program in a much quicker time frame!

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In the sections below, we will go over the most common questions that we receive about competency-based degree programs to help you gain a better understanding of this increasingly popular education option.

How Does a Competency-Based Program Differ from Traditional Education?

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Traditional degree programs are structured around an outline of required courses and credit hours that a student must complete before graduation. Typically, these degrees have fairly rigid timeframes for completion – such as two years for an associate’s degree, four years for a bachelor’s degree, and so on.

A competency-based degree program is structured differently. Instead of focusing on completing a prerequisite number of credit hours and courses, students are required to demonstrate “competency” in various skills that allow them to move forward in their degree program. These competencies can be achieved through a number of different ways, including PLA’s, comprehensive examinations, and completion of skill-based projects.

By measuring a student’s success in the program against the mastery of core competencies, advocates for this style of education believe that students learn skills that are more applicable to real-world, professional situations. There are many advantages to earning your degree through a competency-based program, including:

  • Lower Tuition Costs – By testing out of your competency requirements at a quicker pace, you can move through a large amount of material much faster than traditional students – saving you time and money!
  • Highly Flexible Scheduling – This type of degree is truly designed to be completed at your own pace, and it typically does not involve set log-in times or class attendance requirements.
  • Credit for Life Experience – As the completion of the program is based on competency mastery, your prior education and knowledge can be directly applied by “testing out” the course material you already know.
  • Accelerated Graduation – A competency-based program allows you to finish your degree as quickly or slowly as you choose. Through hard work and dedication, you may be able to finish your degree in less than half the time of traditional programs.

For those with a great deal of professional experience or previous college education, a competency-based program is the most flexible option available to turn your life experience into a college degree. Without the requirement of credit hours, you can easily test out of the competencies you’ve already mastered and spend more time on those that are challenging – putting you on the fast track to earning your degree!

What Do I Need to Know When Considering a Competency-Based Degree Program?

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As we mentioned previously, competency-based degree programs are a relatively new development. Currently, there are a handful of schools throughout the country that offer accredited competency-based programs, and it is essential that you check into the credentials of your college’s program before enrollment.

Another important factor to consider with competency-based programs is tuition and financial aid. Overall, the tuition costs of earning a degree through an online competency-based program are substantially less than traditional education.

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Policies vary by college, but many schools charge a flat tuition fee (typically around $2,500-3,000) per-semester with competency-based programs – regardless of the number of competencies you master in that timeframe. If you are able to work quickly through the required competencies and complete several extra classes each semester, this could lead to huge savings over the course of your degree program!

Unfortunately, only a few competency-based degree programs are eligible for financial aid at this time – so be sure to check in with your academic advisor to determine the options you have for paying for your education.

How Do I Know If a Competency-Based Degree Program Is Right for Me?

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Accredited universities throughout the country are now offering a variety of educational options to meet the changing needs of their student body, and competency-based degree programs is a growing trend in higher education.

While these programs are designed to be an even more flexible option than online degrees, those who are the most successful in competency-based programs typically have the following characteristics:

  • Highly-motivated and self-driven
  • Extensive professional experience within their field
  • Independent learners
  • Ability to work at a fast-pace

In addition to the personality characteristics of those who are most likely to succeed in a competency-based program, you will also need to be able to meet the financial requirements of your college.

With the potential of minimal financial aid assistance, students are responsible for paying the tuition fees associated with completing the degree program. College is often considered to be a time to build your personal and professional networks, but the environment for competency-based programs makes this experience a bit different.

Due to the unique structure of this style of education, students tend to have less interaction with instructors and classmates than those in traditional learning environments. While this is a plus for students who have the drive to work quickly through their coursework, you will want to ensure that your college offers students services that can assist you in more challenging courses.

As a bonus, however, those who have completed a competency-based program are often well-prepared for the professional environment due to the project-based assessments of the coursework within this type of program! While there are definite challenges to completing your education with a competency-based degree, it is becoming a viable option for adult students across the country.

If you are motivated to work independently and have prior learning experience within your field of study, this type of degree could be an excellent way to save money on tuition costs and enter the workforce in a much quicker timeframe than traditional college students!

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Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.