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Should I Get My MHA in a Traditional or Competency-Based Degree Program?

Your preferred learning style can help you choose between a traditional or competency-based degree.

The healthcare field is booming. Between now and 2024, the need for health services managers is expected to grow by 17%, a rate that is much faster than the average expected job growth.* One of the best ways to find success in this growing field is by earning a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA). And one of the best ways to earn an MHA degree is through an online university.

When you enroll in an online MHA program, you can find the flexibility you need to continue working and/or caring for your family while you earn your degree. But should you enroll in a course-based online MHA program or a competency-based degree program? The answer depends on how you prefer to learn, and how quickly you want to earn your MHA degree.

Should I Get My MHA in a Traditional or Competency-Based Degree Program?

What Is the Difference Between a Traditional Online Program and a Competency-Based Program?

A course-based online MHA degree program requires you to participate in and pass a set number of courses. Each course lasts a predetermined number of weeks and, to earn course credit, you must complete the course with a passing grade. Once you pass all the courses in the online course-based MHA program, you earn your MHA degree.

A competency-based MHA degree program doesn’t require you to enroll in courses. Instead, you master specific advanced healthcare administration skills at whatever pace works best for you. You can use the learning resources provided to you and apply knowledge acquired through work, life experiences, or prior education. You demonstrate your mastery of each competency through competency-based assessments, which are administered by faculty in the form of a test or an assigned task such as a paper or project. Once you have proven your mastery of all the competencies in the MHA degree program, you earn your MHA.

What Are the Advantages of Each?

A traditional online MHA degree program is a structured program comprised of a specific number of advanced healthcare administration courses. That means you will have a good sense of how long it will take to earn your healthcare administration degree before you begin your degree program. Additionally, you will know how long each course will take, when tests will occur, and when projects are due. A traditional online program is designed to keep you moving forward. As such, it can be a good choice for your MHA degree if you need a strong structure to help you stay on task and perform your best.

A competency-based MHA degree program is set up so that you, rather than your online university, set the pace. The goal is to master skills, not complete courses. Because of this, you can earn credit for your MHA competencies as quickly as you are able. The faster you pass the MHA competency-based assessments, the faster you earn your MHA degree. This means competency-based learning can save you time. Because you pay per term, not per competency, a competency-based degree program can also save you money. You won’t, however, be on your own. Faculty will be on hand to provide expectations for each competency and direct you toward learning resources. The flexibility of a competency-based MHA degree makes it a great choice if you are a self-starter and are committed to earning your degree quickly.

How Do I Choose?

With the right online university, both a traditional MHA degree and a competency-based MHA degree can help you advance your career in healthcare. The question isn’t which degree is better; the question is which degree is better for you. You should spend time reviewing online universities and their traditional degree programs vs. their competency-based degree programs. You can then choose the program that fits best with your learning style and your timetable for completing your healthcare administration degree.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering both a traditional online MHA degree program and a competency-based MHA degree program through Tempo Learning™ by Walden. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2015–2016 Edition, Medical and Health Services Managers, on the Internet at