Going Back to College and the Competency-Based Model of Education


By Beth Dumbauld

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was only one way to go back to college and it looked a lot like this:

1 - You decide to go to college. 

As an adult learner, there are lots of compelling reasons to go back to college. You may choose to do so a few years after graduating from high school, after realizing your employment prospects are severely limited without holding a college degree or professional certificate. Alternatively, you choose to go back to school mid-career when you find yourself unsatisfied in your job, and would like a career change. You might go back to college after serving in the military. Or you may be one of the many adults who go back to college to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in order to improve your chances at a promotion or increase job stability in your current position.

2 - You apply to a college or university.

If you are like most students, you consider location, cost, and reputation of colleges closest to you geographically. As an adult learner, you realize that time is limited, and that rising college tuition rates, as well as commuting and transportation costs are big issues.

3 - You apply for financial aid by filling out the FAFSA.

College is expensive. The average cost of college ranges from $7,200 per year for in-state tuition at a public 4-year college to $23,300 per year at a 4-year private non-profit institution.1 Furthermore, the average amount of financial debt for a college graduate is: $25,250.2

4 - You wait to see if you are accepted by your preferred college or university.

College admission is a wait and see process – wasting valuable time for the adult learner who knows what they want out of a college education in terms of a career, and are committed to earning their degree.

5 - You wait to see if you qualify for the type and amount of financial you need to pay for your college education.

Maybe you qualify for federally funded financial aid, maybe not. Maybe your state no longer offers financial aid for the types of programs you are interested in. Maybe they do, but the funding is limited. In other words, there are a lot of maybes and maybe will only maybe allow you to earn your degree.

6 - You pick a college and matriculate at the beginning of a semester.

In a traditional, on-campus college setting, your schedule must conform to the institution’s schedule. In other words, you start college when the college says it’s time to start college.

7 - You register for classes and hope you get the college courses you want when you need them.

In the state college system, you are lucky if you can avoid being placed on wait lists for classes required for your major or needed as prerequisites. With decreases in funding for many colleges and universities throughout the U.S. there has been in a reduction in the number and frequency of classes offered at many institutions. The odds of you finding yourself on a wait list continue to grow.

1 US Dept. of Education, Postsecondary Institutions and Price of Attendance in 2011-12, Degrees and Other Awards Conferred: 2010-11, and 12-Month Enrollment: 2010-11, 7/2012, p.3

2 The Project on Student Debt, Student Debt and the Class of 2010, p.1.


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