A quick glance at today’s university tuition rates is enough to give any potential student second thoughts about pursuing a degree. The total cost, on top of the time required, the sacrifices against other life priorities, and the sheer effort that learning demands … it’s no wonder so many educational dreams get put on permanent hold.
However, there’s a solution that addresses the flexibility needs of students who are further along in life, with established lifestyles, jobs, and families. People who never started, or started but never completed, a college degree can opt for competency-based programs, which take into account current knowledge and use short units of learning followed by frequent assessments to measure their success.
Study and achieve at your pace
“The average person in a program using competency-based learning can complete a master’s program in under 2 years,” according to Dr. Martha Cheney, program director with The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership. Since competency-based programs are subscription-based, that translates into an extra incentive to pursue a degree at a faster pace.
The best part is that the pace is completely defined by the individual: For one student, progress might mean rocketing through some assessments, then taking time off to refuel; for another, a more measured, predictable pace might make more sense for their learning style. “It’s a great way to leverage previous educational experience as well as work experience—if you’re bringing knowledge to your learning, you get to demonstrate that knowledge and move forward,” says Dr. Cheney.
This is in contrast to traditional higher education, where previous knowledge is not evaluated as a part of a learning plan, and where progress is measured by the amount of time spent in a classroom. Competency-based learning focuses on what knowledge and understanding a student has acquired, rather than how long it takes to acquire the knowledge.
Students who have pursued degrees through competency-based programs have reported that their learning experiences were often immediately relevant in their day jobs. That’s because the programs are developed with the help of industry and academic experts, with frequent assessments giving students the chance to double-check their understanding and speed their progress.
“It’s not just about passing assessments: it’s about using them to identify the areas where you need more study or a little extra help. You can move through competencies as quickly as you like, so you can truly control the time it takes to get your degree. Each test, presentation, or other challenge isn’t designed to weed you out—it’s designed to identify where you still have the opportunity learn. Master the competency, and the next learning module builds on it,” Dr. Cheney says.
“The cost of pursuing a degree is never going to be cheap. But the payoff—in terms of industry knowledge, career advancement potential, and the satisfaction of completing your degree—is certainly worth it,” says Dr. Cheney. Because the assessments are very specific to measuring learning outcomes and skill sets that companies want, students have tangible evidence of what they can do, how it applies to a job, and what makes them the best candidate for advancement.
Factor in the ability to work as quickly as you like—with the potential of reducing your tuition—and the investment in a higher degree via competency-based learning becomes an opportunity too good to pass up, and a can’t-miss chance to turn a job into a fulfilling career.