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The Value and Strength of Competency-Based Degree Programs

A new study reconfirms the advantages of competency-based degree programs in higher education.

It’s no secret that over the past 30 years the average tuition at 4-year U.S. colleges and universities has increased dramatically.1 And yet, the investment in a college degree is still very much worth it, with college graduates earning 56% more on average than high school graduates.2 But what can be done to make the price of a college education more affordable? One option that has students turning away from the traditional approach to earning a degree is competency-based education.

According to a new study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), competency-based education can make earning a degree more affordable.1 Plus, it can help you better prepare for modern careers. Here’s what you need to know:

The Value and Strength of Competency-Based Degree Programs

How Competency-Based Education Works

Rather than enrolling in pre-determined courses that require a set amount of time to complete, competency-based degree programs allow you to master specific skills in your field of study at whatever pace works best for you. You can use the learning resources provided to you by faculty and/or apply knowledge acquired through work, life experiences, or prior education.

Universities offering competency-based learning don’t require you to spend a certain amount of time in class or to amass a certain number of credit hours. Instead, these universities use tests, written papers, and/or other assessments to certify you’ve achieved specific competencies in your field. Once you’ve demonstrated mastery of those competencies, you earn your degree. In other words, competency-based education seeks to cut to the chase of higher education: ensuring you acquire advanced knowledge and skills.

How Competency-Based Education Can Save You Money

In the TPPF study, students who earned a degree from a competency-based degree program were more likely to graduate debt-free than those who attended a traditional degree program. This is likely due to the fact that, in most competency-based degree programs, you can complete as many competencies as you want during any specific term without incurring additional tuition costs. This allows you earn a degree faster, thus lowering the amount you pay over the course of your education.

How Competency-Based Education Can Prepare You for a Job

When designing a competency-based degree program, many universities meet with large employers in the relevant industry to ensure that the curriculum being developed has desirable and useful learning outcomes for today’s employers and their needs. This, in turn, helps ensure that you don’t simply earn a degree but that you gain marketable skills. As you might expect, this method of education is proving effective. For example, the TPPF study found that graduates with a competency-based degree “scored significantly higher on work readiness overall as well as grit, organizational acumen, and personal management” than did their peers who graduated from traditional degree programs.

How Competency-Based Education Offers Additional Benefits

Because competency-based education doesn’t expect you to spend hours sitting in a class, it’s well-suited for online learning. In fact, many of the best competency-based degree programs are being offered by accredited online colleges and universities, giving you the opportunity to simultaneously enjoy the benefits of competency-based learning and online education.

When you earn a degree online, you can avoid many of the disruptions that come from attending a campus-based university. For one, no matter where you live, online education makes it possible to attend a good college. That’s because online degree programs allow you to complete your degree from home or from anywhere else you have internet access. Plus, online learning gives you the flexibility to schedule your schoolwork around your life, making it possible to continue working full time and/or handle your other responsibilities while you earn a degree.

If you want to succeed in your career, you’ll likely need the right degree. Thanks to competency-based education and online learning, earning a degree is more feasible than ever before.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering competency-based degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.



Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,