Save Money on College Tip Nine: Pay for Learning Outcomes: Competency-Based Education Emphasizes Skill over Time

Beth Dumbauld

Competency-Based Education Emphasizes Skill over TimeBy Beth Dumbauld

Today’s post is the ninth in a series of short tips on how to save money on college.

Today’s tip is . . .

Pay for Learning Outcomes: Competency-Based Education Emphasizes Skill over Time 

Do you want to save money on college and graduate sooner? Here’s a powerfully simple strategy for you. Utilize competency-based education.

A college diploma. What is it really? Is it an assessment of what you know or is it a testimony to how long you’ve spent earning your degree? For those carrying an overwhelming amount of student loan debt, a college education might mean that though you’ve pocketed the required amount of credit hours to earn your degree – you are now carrying the burden of a college system that emphasizes tuition dollars and time spent. For those who earn their degree through a competency-based education, however, you will find that the emphasis is on individualized learning engagement, knowledge and skill – which can mean thousands of dollars you don’t have to spend on tuition.

A competency-based college education cuts the notion of time out of the college equation. Instead of focusing on credit hours and time-to-degree like the traditional pathway to college, it focuses on learning outcomes and subject matter mastery.

When you take the emphasis away from time, and begin to emphasize knowledge acquisition and learning outcomes, you open up an opportunity for a different kind of cost-to-college structure. As such the impact that a competency-based college degree pathway can have on the cost of college can be dramatic. Here’s how:

  • With a competency-based college education, you can earn real college credit for past experiences through prior learning assessments (PLA). A PLA will allow you to earn college credit for what you already know for a far lower cost compared with taking college courses at current college tuition rates.
  • A competency-based education allows you to use test-for-credit programs like Excelsior College Exams as a springboard to begin your college education at your real knowledge and skill level. This could potentially mean starting college with only a few subject areas to master and thereby taking a year or two off the time it takes to earn your degree.
  • A competency-based education allows you to acquire mastery in subject areas away from a traditional campus through alternative low-cost online channels like StraighterLine. StraighterLine allows you to take as many credit-bearing college courses as you’d like through their $99/month subscription program (plus a one-time course fee of $49).
  • A competency-based education emphasizes the “what-you-know” of a college degree, not the “where-you-got-that-knowledge” part of a diploma seal. When you take low-cost college courses through StraighterLine, you can fast track your pathway to a degree by taking advantage of StraighterLine’s fully-articulated transfer agreements with their partner colleges. Additionally, StraighterLine’s partner colleges include the leaders in competency-based education: Western Governors University (WGU), Excelsior College, Kaplan University, and SUNY Empire State College. Taking fully transferrable college courses through StraighterLine allows you to enjoy extreme college savings with the full knowledge that your StraighterLine courses move you on a direct pathway to earning your degree.
  • The quicker pathway to college that a competency-based education enables allows you to reduce the amount of time you are enrolled in college and paying tuition. For example, a competency-based education institution like Western Governors University allows you to begin earning your degree at the start of a month (any month) with terms considered in 6-month increments from your start date. Within those six months you are able to move as rapidly as you can through subject matter as your skills-basis allows.

When you invest in learning outcomes, not time spent, you can save a significant amount of money when earning your college degree. The competency-based model honors all paths to knowledge – it’s about continual assessment and standardized competency attainment. By replacing semesters with skill and knowledge acquisition, there is room for a college student to move rapidly to graduation, saving thousands of tuition dollars in the process.

Beth Dumbauld is a writer who is passionate about helping others save money and time. She received her MBA from the University of Colorado and currently lives near Cincinnati, Ohio.

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