15 Best Competency Based Degree Programs [2024 Guide]

By Joy Cromwelle
Updated on April 19, 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.

Editorial Listing ShortCode:

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

  • Online Bachelor’s in Human Services
  • Online Bachelor’s in Nursing (RN to BSN)

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

2. Capella University

  • Online Bachelor’s in Accounting
  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration
  • Online Bachelor’s in Health Care Management
  • Online Bachelor’s in Human Resource Management
  • Online Bachelor’s in Project Management
  • Online Master’s in Teaching and Learning
  • Online MBA – Health Care Management
  • Online MBA – Human Resource Management
  • Online MBA – Project Management
  • Online MBA – Self-Designed

Capella is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

3. Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Online Master of Social Work – Advanced Specialist

Indiana Wesleyan University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

4. Northern Arizona University

  • Online Bachelor’s in Computer Information Technology
  • Online Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts
  • Online Bachelor’s in Management
  • Online Bachelor’s in Nursing (RN to BSN)
  • Online Bachelor’s in Small Business Administration
  • Online Master’s in Computer Information Technology
  • Online Master’s in Nursing

NAU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

5. Purdue University – Global

  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration
  • Online Bachelor’s in Cloud Computing and Solutions
  • Online Bachelor’s in Information Technology
  • Online Bachelor’s in Nursing (RN-to-BSN)
  • Online Master’s in Nursing
  • Online MBA

PG is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

6. Rasmussen College

  • Online Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education

Rasmussen College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

7. Southern New Hampshire University

  • Online Associate’s in General Studies – Business
  • Online Associate’s in General Studies – Transforming the Customer Service
  • Online Associate’s in Healthcare Management
  • Online Bachelor’s in Communications – Business
  • Online Bachelor’s in Communications – Healthcare
  • Online Bachelor’s in Healthcare Management – Communications
  • Online Bachelor’s in Healthcare Management – Global Healthcare Perspectives
  • Online Bachelor’s in Management – Insurance Services
  • Online Bachelor’s in Management – Logistics and Operations
  • Online Bachelor’s in Management – Public Administration

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

8. Texas A&M University – Commerce

  • Online BAAS in Organizational Leadership

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

9. Thomas Edison State University

  • Online Master of Public Service Leadership

Thomas Edison State University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

10. University of Louisville

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

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

11. University of Massachusetts – Global

  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration – General Business
  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration – Information Systems Management
  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration – Management & Organizational Leadership
  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration – Marketing
  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration – Supply Chain Management & Logistics
  • Online Bachelor’s in Information Technology
  • Online Master’s in Organizational Leadership

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

12. University of Wisconsin

  • 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

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

Walden is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

14. Western Governors University

  • 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 College

  • Online Bachelor’s in Business Administration
  • Online Bachelor’s in Nursing (RN to BS)
  • Online Master’s in Strategic Communication
  • Online 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 is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy at Liberty University and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management from Amberton University, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration from Columbia College. With over 20 years of experience navigating online degrees and courses, Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.