15 Best Competency Based Degree Programs [2024 Guide]

By Joy Cromwelle
Edited by Briana Sukert
Updated on July 17, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
Ready to start your journey?

We’ve ranked the 15 Best Competency Based Degree Programs for 2024. Compare schools offering competency based degrees online & on campus.

Competency Based Degree

What if I told you that there was a way you could earn a degree faster than a traditional degree without the need to attend regular classes?

It might sound too good to be true, but with the increasing availability of competency based degree programs, this is the fastest way to get a bachelor’s degree for some students. Instead of spending hours in a classroom stressing about a semester after semester of attending lectures, you can now earn a degree on a schedule that fits your busy life.

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List of Schools Offering Competency Based Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer online competency based degree programs.

1. Anderson University

Anderson University’s FLEX program offers a competency-based, self-paced format designed for non-traditional students. It includes a variety of programs in fields such as criminal justice, human services, healthcare management, and nursing. Ideal for busy adults, FLEX allows learners to progress quickly by leveraging prior knowledge and experience.

  • Online Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice
  • Online Bachelor of Human Services
  • Online Bachelor of Human Services in Behavioral Health
  • Online Bachelor of Human Services in Gerontology
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Health Care Management
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)

Anderson is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

2. Capella University

Capella University’s FlexPath offers a competency-based education model allowing students to progress at their own pace.

Spanning bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in fields such as business, health care administration, information technology, psychology, and nursing, FlexPath emphasizes mastery of specific skills and knowledge, providing a personalized and flexible learning experience tailored to individual progress and prior experience.

  • Online Bachelor of Science in Business
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Information Technology
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Psychology
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • Online Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Online Master of Health Administration (MHA)
  • Online Master of Science in Human Resource Management
  • Online Master of Science in Psychology
  • Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Online Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Online Doctor of Human Services (DHS)
  • Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • Online Doctor of Education (EdD)

Capella is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

3. Indiana Wesleyan University

Indiana Wesleyan University offers competency-based programs in Management and Elementary Teaching. These programs let students progress by demonstrating mastery of skills and knowledge, leveraging their existing expertise to accelerate completion. Flexible and self-paced, they cater to working adults, allowing them to apply real-world experiences and receive personalized support, ensuring an efficient path to earning a degree.

  • Online Bachelor of Science – Management
  • Online Competency Based TTT Elementary Education Graduate Certificate

Indiana Wesleyan University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

4. Purdue University – Global

Purdue Global’s ExcelTrack™ is a competency-based education program that allows students to control their learning pace. Ideal for working professionals, it offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees with flexible start dates and a subscription-based tuition model. Students demonstrate mastery of skills to progress, enabling faster, more affordable degree completion tailored to individual schedules and experiences.

  • Online Bachelor’s in Analytics
  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration
  • Online Bachelor’s in Cloud Computing and Solutions
  • Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice
  • Online Bachelor’s in Cybersecurity
  • Online Bachelor’s in Health Care Administration
  • Online Bachelor’s in Information Technology
  • Online Bachelor’s in Nursing (RN-to-BSN)
  • Online Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Online Executive Leader Postgraduate Certificate for Nurses

PG is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

5. Rasmussen University

Rasmussen University’s Empowered Learning® offers a competency-based, self-paced education model. It allows students to demonstrate skills through real-world projects instead of traditional tests. The flexible format lets students manage their pace, speeding up or slowing down as needed. This method is designed for working professionals and offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in various fields.

  • Online Bachelor’s in Accounting
  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Management
  • Online Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education
  • Online Bachelor’s in Finance
  • Online Bachelor’s in Graphic Design
  • Online Bachelor’s in Health and Wellness
  • Online Bachelor’s in Health Information Management
  • Online Bachelor’s in Healthcare Management
  • Online bachelor’s in Human Resources and Organizational Leadership
  • Online Bachelor’s in Marketing
  • Online bachelor’s in Supply Chain & Logistics Management
  • Online RN to BSN
  • Online Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Online Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)
  • Online Master of Human Resources Management (MHRM)
  • Online Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  • Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Rasmussen University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

6. South Texas College

South Texas College offers nine 100% online competency-based education programs designed for flexible, self-paced learning. Students progress by mastering specific skills and can accelerate completion using prior knowledge. The programs feature 7-week online courses, with practical application and personalized support, ideal for working adults seeking efficient degree attainment tailored to individual needs.

  • Accounting Clerk Certificate
  • Associate of Applied Science in Child Development and Early Childhood
  • Computer Applications Specialist Certificate
  • Information and Network Systems Certificate
  • Public Services Assistant Certificate
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Organizational Leadership
  • Bachelor of Applied Technology in Computer and Information Technologies
  • Bachelor of Applied Technology in Medical and Health Services Management
  • Bachelor of Applied Technology in Operations Management

South Texas College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

7. Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University’s competency-based learning model allows students to earn degrees through mastery of specific skills rather than traditional coursework. Programs are project-based and self-paced, offering flexibility and affordability. This model is designed to meet the needs of working professionals and underserved communities, supporting career advancement and educational access.

  • Certificate in Healthcare Management Fundamentals
  • Associate in Arts General Studies
  • Associate in Arts Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication
  • Bachelor of Arts in Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Arts in Management

SNHU is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

8. Texas A&M University – Commerce

The Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS) in Organizational Leadership at Texas A&M University-Commerce is a competency-based program designed for flexibility and accelerated completion. Students can finish in as little as 12 months, depending on their pace. The program requires 120 credit hours, with 60 credits for the major coursework.

  • Online BAAS in Organizational Leadership

Texas A&M University- Commerce is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

9. University of Louisville

The Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership and Learning (BSOLL) at the University of Louisville is an online program designed for working professionals. It offers flexible learning, allowing credits for prior work and military experience. The program includes nine specialized tracks and can be completed in as few as three semesters full-time.

  • Online Bachelor’s in Organizational Leadership and Learning – Healthcare Leadership

UL is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

10. University of Massachusetts – Global

UMass Global offers self-paced learning through its MyPath program, allowing students to progress at their own speed. This competency-based education model enables learners to master skills and knowledge flexibly, ideal for working professionals. With no set class times, students can complete courses at their convenience, balancing education with personal and professional commitments.

  • Online Associate of Arts (AA) in General Business
  • Online Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in General Business
  • Online BBA in GIS and Data Analytics
  • Online BBA in Information Systems Management
  • Online BBA in Management & Organizational Leadership
  • Online BBA in Marketing
  • Online BBA in Supply Chain Management and Logistics
  • Online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Information Technology
  • Online BS in Information Technology – Data Science
  • Online Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MAOL)

The University of Massachusetts Global is accredited by the WSCUC Senior College and University Commission.

11. University of Phoenix

The University of Phoenix offers competency-based degrees that can be completed in less than a year. Students can progress at their own pace, typically taking about four months to complete four courses, one at a time. This flexible program allows for accelerated learning, making it ideal for working adults who want to leverage their existing knowledge and experience.

  • Online RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Competency Based-CB)
  • Master of Business Administration (Competency Based-CB)
  • Master of Health Administration (Competency Based-CB)
  • Master of Information Systems (Competency Based-CB)

The University of Phoenix is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

12. University of Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin Flexible Option (UW Flex) is a self-paced, competency-based education program tailored for busy adults. It offers a variety of credentials, including 1 associate degree, 5 bachelor’s completion degrees, 4 certificates, and 1 microcredential. This innovative format allows students to demonstrate mastery of skills at their own pace, providing flexibility, affordability, and personalized learning pathways for working professionals.

  • Online Associate’s in Arts and Science
  • Online Bachelor’s in Biomedical Sciences Diagnostic Imaging
  • Online Bachelor’s in Biomedical Sciences Health Sciences
  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration
  • Online Bachelor’s in Information Science and Technology
  • Online Bachelor’s in Nursing (RN to BSN)

UW is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

13. Walden University

Walden University offers flexible learning options designed for busy professionals. Their competency-based Tempo Learning® program spans over 25 programs and specializations, allowing students to progress at their own pace by demonstrating mastery of specific skills. This innovative approach includes bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, providing the flexibility to balance education with work and personal commitments.

  • Online Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Studies
  • Online Bachelor’s in Nursing (RN-BSN)
  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration
  • Online Master’s in Early Childhood Studies
  • Online Master’s in Healthcare Administration
  • Online Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Walden is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

14. Western Governors University

Western Governors University (WGU) offers a competency-based learning model for busy adults. Students progress at their own pace by mastering subjects, supported by faculty mentors. This flexible, online approach suits working professionals, offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees. WGU’s model provides an affordable, efficient path to earning a degree tailored to individual schedules.

  • Online Bachelor’s in Elementary Education
  • Online Bachelor’s in Health Information Management
  • Online Bachelor’s in Mathematics Education
  • Online Bachelor’s in Science Education
  • Online Bachelor’s in Special Education
  • Online Master’s in Elementary Education
  • Online Master’s in English Education
  • Online Master’s in Mathematics Education
  • Online Master’s in Nursing
  • Online Master’s in Science Education

WGU is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

15. Westminster University

Westminster University’s Professional and Continuing Education offers customized trainings, certificates, and programs designed for flexibility and practical skill enhancement.

The programs are tailored to meet individual and organizational needs, with flexible scheduling and online options to accommodate busy professionals. Participants engage in real-world projects and hands-on learning, ensuring immediate application of new skills in their careers.

  • Online Bachelor of Business Administration
  • Online Project-Based Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Westminster is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Competency Based Degrees vs. Traditional Degrees

What does “competency based” even mean? The first thing you need to know about a competency based program is how it differs from a traditional degree. To put it simply, the difference lies in the way that you will earn your degree.

Traditional Degrees

  • Semester-long courses
  • Set a time for graduation
  • Options for on-campus and online classes
  • Standard general education credits
  • Limited flexibility to work around your schedule
  • Per-credit tuition fees
  • Letter-based grading system

Competency Based Degrees

  • Work at your own pace
  • Classes scheduled on three- to six-month terms
  • Courses based upon mastering skills and self-study
  • Online classes
  • Highest level of flexibility to suit your schedule
  • Tuition paid per term—regardless of the number of credits earned
  • Pass/fail grading system

As you can see, there are a lot of differences in the structure of how your courses are set up in a competency based degree vs. a traditional degree.

Instead of attending college classes every week and earning a letter grade for completion at the end of the semester, in a competency based program, you can work at your own pace and submit an assessment and/or portfolio when you feel you have mastered the course.

What Are the Benefits of a Competency Based Degree?

If you are a highly-motivated student who thrives on independent learning, this type of degree could be the ideal choice for you. There are several benefits to earning a degree through a competency based program, including:

  • Ability to quickly move past classes you already have mastered
  • Collaboration with a mentor to keep you on-track
  • Complete flexibility with your class schedule
  • Potential for lower tuition costs
  • Faster degree completion

The flexibility of this type of program could be a great option if you are an adult student who is also trying to juggle the demands of career and family life along with earning a degree!

What Are the Drawbacks of a Competency Based Degree?

The up-side of a competency based degree sounds really appealing, but there are always going to be challenges regardless of the type of degree program you choose. Before committing to this type of degree, consider the following drawbacks:

  • Time management and independent study skills are necessities
  • Procrastinating on course completion can make your degree much less cost-efficient
  • Transfer credits are not always accepted—for both in and out transfers
  • Finding a reputable school takes some research

Overall, the biggest drawback to competency based learning is the potential of paying for an entire term without earning any credits if you procrastinate. If you choose not to complete your competencies in the term’s timeframe, you’ll still end up paying the tuition fee and have nothing to show for it.

How Are Competency Based Degrees Structured?

How Are Competency Based Degrees Structured

Competency based programs focus on developing an understanding of real-world skills that are essential for employment after graduating with your degree. Because of this, you will not take traditional “classes.” Instead, you will work towards mastery of the competencies through self-study and eventually pass an exam that allows you to complete the class.

The typical competency based degree is structured in a format similar to the following:

  • You pay tuition for one term (typically three to six months) and complete as many competency units as possible during that timeframe.
  • A minimum number of competency units are recommended per term in order to keep your degree program on track.
  • Competency units are earned through the successful completion of a course exam, portfolio, or capstone project.
  • Generally, grades in this type of program are on a pass/no pass basis.
  • You will be guided through your program by a mentor that will help you stay on schedule for completing your degree.

Some schools also offer a slightly more structured form of competency degree, in which you will have assignments/deadlines sent to you each week to help keep you on pace.

How Will I Attend Classes?

Since competency based degrees are based upon self-paced study, you will not be attending a typical classroom setting to learn the skills in your classes. Instead, each aspect of your courses will be built around the development of practical and critical thinking skills that translate directly to your future field.

To accomplish such an independent pace for your degree, you will be taking your classes online—which is a huge plus for many working adult students!

Benefits of Online Classes

Taking an online class can give you the freedom to log-on to your coursework at a time that fits into your busy life, which is exactly why they are used with competency based degree programs.

Benefits that can come from taking classes online instead of sitting through in-person lectures include:

  • Freedom to work on courses when it’s convenient for you
  • Ability to spend more time on challenging subjects
  • Access to extensive online resources and support
  • Connection with faculty and other students through the online portal
  • Potential for lower tuition and textbook costs

By giving you the freedom to attend classes online and work at a truly independent pace, a competency based degree is the ultimate in flexible higher education.

What Colleges Offer Competency Based Programs?

Now that you’ve learned a little about what a competency based program is, you’re probably wondering where you can find this type of degree!

While competency based education is a relatively new concept, more accredited schools have begun offering this type of program based upon the needs of their changing student body. There are several schools throughout the country that offer quality competency based degrees, but we’ll give you a few facts about two of the most popular:

Western Governors University (WGU)

logo of Western Governors University

WGU is a pioneer with competency based learning, and they offer a large variety of degree programs that can be earned through this format.

Here are a few quick facts about what makes WGU competency based degrees stand out from a traditional school:

  • Degrees offered in Teaching, Business, IT, and Health
  • Six-month term paid at a flat rate
  • One-on-one guidance from a student mentor
  • Regional and specialized accreditation
  • Programs that meet requirements for licensure
  • Bachelor’s and Master’s level degree programs

With its variety of degree options and proven professional track record, WGU is a great starting point for researching the possibility of earning your competency based degree.

Capella University

logo of Capella University

Capella is a unique competency based college because it offers you the option of choosing a self-directed degree (FlexPath) or a more traditionally-guided degree experience (GuidedPath). Regardless of the path you choose, the school offers the following:

  • Professionally aligned curriculum
  • Regional and professional accreditation
  • Business, Health Care, IT, Nursing, and Psychology degree programs
  • Certificate, Bachelor’s, and Master’s level degrees
  • Doctoral degrees offered in GuidedPath
  • FlexPath option allows flat-rate tuition based on a 12-week term
  • GuidedPath option offers higher-level of structure and guidance

By offering a variety of methods and options for earning your competency based degree, Capella does a good job of catering to a diverse student body with a variety of needs.

Choosing a Competency Based School

Whether you choose WGU, Capella, or one of the other universities that are beginning to offer competency based degrees, you need to make sure that your new college lives up to your expectations! After all, the last thing you want is to spend money and time on a degree that won’t hold up in the professional workplace.

Take the following into consideration when you start researching different competency based programs:

  • Is the school accredited? What type of accreditation do they have?
  • What student support services are available?
  • What are the school’s graduation and retention rates?
  • Are you able to transfer credits in and out of the school?
  • Are the fees economical for the course-load you will be able to complete?
  • What about financial aid?

By doing your research beforehand, you can give yourself a head start in getting into a program that meets your needs and your budget.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Competency Based Degree?

student studying on her computer in a college library

This is the million-dollar question in a lot of ways, especially since students looking into this type of program are typically trying to earn their degree as quickly as possible! However, there is no black-and-white answer to this question. Many factors play into how fast you reach graduation, including:

  • Ability to transfer in credits from the previous schooling
  • Knowledge of skills demonstrated through credits for prior learning
  • Restrictions on the number of competency courses that can be taken at a time
  • Number of units you are able to complete each term

To get a better idea of how fast you are likely to finish your degree, reach out to your target school during the research process. They should be able to provide you with average degree completion timeframes and statistics that will give you a clearer picture of what to expect.

Can a Competency Based Degree Save Me Money?

When it comes down to it, the answer is yes… but how much money you save is ultimately up to you! As discussed earlier, competency based degrees are often great for those who can quickly complete units and get through a number of self paced college courses each term.

On the flip-side, if you only complete a couple of units each term, the flat-rate cost will quickly wind up being much more expensive than the few credits you earned.

In short, the best way to save money on a competency based degree is to go above and beyond in completing as many units as possible for each term.

Financial Aid for Competency Based Degrees

screenshot of FAFSA website

So, what do you do when you know you can complete the course units quickly, but you’re still stressing about paying the term fee to get started?

Luckily, many of these schools accept financial aid to help students in need still earn their degrees! Financial aid can come in a number of ways that can be used to help lower the cost of your degree program, including:

  • Student loans
  • Federal and state grants
  • Scholarships
  • Employer tuition programs
  • Military discounts

The first step towards seeing what type of aid you are eligible for is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible every year.

This federal form will help give you a clear idea of which grants you are eligible for and information you need if student loans are the best option for you. From there, check with your individual school to see what type of aid they offer to their students.

What Is a Competency Based Degree?

Competency Based Degrees

A competency based degree describes the style of learning. You work at your own pace and submit your coursework at the end when you’re ready to prove your competency for mastering the material. Your diploma will not show that you earned a competency based degree. It will say the same as everyone else’s degree in that course of study.

How Does Competency Based Education Work?

In a competency based program, you work at your own pace and pay by period rather than class. You can complete as many classes as you can in that timeframe for one price. When you’ve mastered the material, you turn in your portfolio of completed work.

Is a Degree from Capella Respected?

Yes, a degree from Capella is respected. They are regionally accredited, so any type of degree they offer is considered to be of high-quality.

Is WGU a Respected Degree?

Yes, a degree from WGU (Western Governors University) is respected. They maintain proper accreditation at the regional level and can therefore assure students of a high-quality education in every type of program.

Make the Most of Your Time with Competency Based Degree Programs

student studying online

Now that you know all the basics of how a competency based degree program works, it’s time to take the first step toward your future. With its flexible structure, this type of degree can be the ideal way to make your education fit into your busy daily life.

Whether you want to earn a degree to get a promotion or you want to go back to school to finish a degree you started years ago, these programs, including competency based masters programs, could be your path to reaching your long-term goals.

Ready to start your journey?
Joy Cromwelle is pursuing a doctorate in public policy and foreign policy at Liberty University. She holds an MBA in Strategic Management from Amberton University and a bachelor's degree in business administration from Columbia College.