With millions of people returning to college every year to finish their educations the options have become overwhelming. Finding the school that best fits your education level and goals, schedule, and life obligations can be a tricky task. Luckily the college experience has evolved from the traditional college campus life, to hybrid colleges that offer a combination of online and in-class learning, to completely virtual and online colleges. Now competency based online colleges have emerged …WAIT, WHAT?!? Competency based? I know what you’re thinking, “What is a competency based college?”
Competency based colleges are online colleges or universities just like any other but with one major exception: tests are not graded on the traditional grade point scale but by passing or failing learning competencies. The foremost of these types of universities is the Western Governor’s University (WGU) (http://www.wgu.edu) which was founded by 19 United States Governors with the purpose of providing an affordable, high quality education for the non-traditional student (adult student). Not only is it accredited, but it is growing quickly providing Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees to over 43,000 people all over the U.S. Adding to its rapid growth WGU is supported by some big names that include:
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Hospital Corporation of America
J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Simmons Media Group
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
SunGard Higher Education
Wasatch Property Management
So you might be asking, “How does it work?” For non-traditional students cost is always an issue but at WGU tuition ranges from $3,035 – $4,595*(other fees may apply) per six month term. In those six months, you can take as many classes as you like and if you have the knowledge to pass the class immediately you can test out of it and skip it. As a student, you are provided with the opportunity to finish your degree in half of the time and with three times less debt than the average student. Upon enrollment, you are assigned a peer counselor (which some say are not the greatest), degree plan, learning resources, and online student communities allow you to share your academic success with others who are enrolled.
How does this college make money though? Well many busy non-traditional students still tend to take about 2 classes each term (ranging between $481-708 per credit hour), but for those who can knock out 5 or 6 classes per semester, you’re getting a rate like no other. Remember, some still do not pass the competency tests and must repeat the test until they do.
So what do employers think? Just like hybrid, virtual, and online colleges not all companies have fully bought in to the idea of non-traditional education. Asking for a GPA is common amongst many Fortune 500 companies and others. “A competency based education says that you can pass a test. It doesn’t show the full commitment required of a student at a traditional college which we consider a value with our company.” A marketing executive told us when asked his opinion. “Traditional college is grueling, hands on, but any online college, competency-based or not is seen to have a lesser quality because it’s self-paced, less stressful, and provides more room for cheating.” This is arguably a concern for employers, but with any type of college, the level of quality ultimately depends on the student.
Some other employers say that it’s a great and affordable opportunity. “Not only can my employees get a quality education, but it’s affordable for me to provide tuition assistance!” Many other employers are excited about this new way of learning as well viewing this type of education as one in which they can receive an employee that is prepared, knowledgeable, and ready to take on challenges of the job and job market.
*Based on 2014 tuition