WGU Competency Based Degrees – You’re Free to Set Your Own Pace

By Joy Cromwelle
Updated on April 14, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
Ready to start your journey?

Do you thrive in an environment where you can work at your own pace? Then let me tell you about Western Governors University.

WGU Competency Based Degrees

WGU isn’t set up like other colleges offering degrees online – which is something that may work in your favor if you have an independent learning style. Instead of wading through years of semester-long courses, at WGU, you may fly through your course requirements with a competency based approach (more on that a little bit later).

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This accredited, nonprofit university gives you the flexibility to pursue a number of different degrees on a truly independent platform – but that doesn’t mean you’ll be left to fend for yourself. What I truly love about this school is its dedication to personalized attention for each and every student.

What Sets WGU Apart?

The answer to this boils down to one thing – the way you earn your degree. That might sound vague, but WGU’s mission of giving their students a different way to approach higher education is one of their biggest selling points.

So, what benefits can you expect from WGU that you won’t get at most other online schools? There are several, including:

  • Lower tuition costs and student debt
  • Faster degree completion
  • Individualized pacing for your courses
  • Nonprofit university
  • One-on-one support
  • Accredited, reputable degree programs
  • Positive return on your college investment

An additional plus of attending WGU is that you don’t have to worry about your degree being reputable once you’re ready to hit the job hunt after graduation. WGU is regionally accredited by The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), and they also hold several national accreditations for their various degree programs.

Get answers to all your questions:

Select the competency-based degree that interests you to get easy answers to all your questions:

Education & Teaching:

  • Bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Studies (K-8)
  • Bachelor’s in Mathematics (5-9 or 5-12)
  • Bachelor’s in Science (5-12 Biological Science)
  • Bachelor’s in Science (5-12 Chemistry)
  • Bachelor’s in Science (5-12 Geosciences)
  • Bachelor’s in Science (5-12 Physics)
  • Bachelor’s in Science (5-9)
  • Bachelor’s in Special Education
  • Master’s in Teaching
  • Master’s in Instructional Design
  • Master’s in Curriculum & Instruction

That all sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? But how does WGU offer all these benefits to their students? To put it simply, they do it through competency based learning.

What is Competency Based Learning?

Competency Based Learning

Understanding competency based learning is the most important factor in getting a handle on how WGU differs from other online colleges. I’m guessing that when you think of earning your degree, you might imagine a well-structured, several year schedule of classes and exams that you have to complete – right?

Well, WGU’s approach will turn that type of thinking upside down – in a good way!

Competency based learning focuses on demonstrating mastery of a subject, not just sitting through lectures and handing in assignments. You’re not going to be taking traditional classes when working on a degree at WGU. Instead, you can work at an entirely independent pace with a faculty mentor and you show your mastery of the material through a variety of methods.

How Are Competency Based Classes Structured?

If I could sum up competency based classes in one word, it would be flexible.

This may be huge for students that are juggling family, work, and other obligations on a daily basis.

Let’s break down the typical structure of competency based degree programs so you have a better understanding of what you’ll be getting yourself into:

  • Your classes are based on competencies, not credit hours – so, there’s no predetermined timeframe for finishing each course requirement.
  • Each of your courses will be assigned competency units – one competency unit is equivalent to one semester credit hour.
  • You will be expected to complete a minimum of 12-13 competency units per term to stay on track.
  • Terms at WGU are six months long.
  • You demonstrate your competency through assessments, professional portfolios, or a capstone.
  • Grades are assigned on a Pass/Not Pass basis. Passing a class is equivalent to earning a “B” grade or higher.
  • You’ll be assigned a student mentor who will work one-on-one with you to map out your degree program and stay on track of completing your competencies.

At WGU, they sum up their class structure perfectly by stating that they offer degrees not classes.

While it’s true that you have to be on-top of your game to get the most out of this type of course structure, just imagine the possibilities you may have to save time and money while earning your degree!

What Type of Degree Programs Does WGU Offer?

WGU Degree Programs

If you’re excited about the potential for a competency based degree, it’s time for the fun part – learning about the different degree programs that WGU offers! No matter how good a school sounds, it obviously needs to offer a degree program that fits into your long-term goals. Luckily, WGU has an impressive selection of online degrees.

Education & Teaching:

  • Bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Studies (K-8)
  • Bachelor’s in Mathematics (5-9 or 5-12)
  • Bachelor’s in Science (5-12 Biological Science)
  • Bachelor’s in Science (5-12 Chemistry)
  • Bachelor’s in Science (5-12 Geosciences)
  • Bachelor’s in Science (5-12 Physics)
  • Bachelor’s in Science (5-9)
  • Bachelor’s in Special Education
  • Master’s in Teaching
  • Master’s in Instructional Design
  • Master’s in Curriculum & Instruction

As you can see, the variety of degree programs offered by WGU may open up the door for students from all walks of life to earn a fast, affordable, flexible degree – which is pretty exciting. WGU offers not only bachelor’s degrees, but also competency-based master’s degrees, providing a solid starting point for moving into professional employment.

How Fast Can I Earn My Degree at WGU?

This question is an important one, and if you’re considering WGU, having the opportunity to get your degree finished as quickly as possible likely tops your list of requirements. With competency based degree programs, how fast you earn your degree is ultimately up to you – although several factors contribute to how quickly you reach graduation:

  • Do you have transfer credits from prior college or university classes?
  • Are you able to submit any credits for prior learning or experience?
  • Can you show mastery in more than 13 competency courses per term?

Typically, a WGU student earns a bachelor’s degree in approximately three years – shaving an entire year off the standard degree program at a typical university.

Throughout the course of your degree program, you may work with a student mentor to manage your On Time Progress towards degree completion and map out a plan for accomplishing your goals within your targeted timeframe.

Will WGU Save Me Money on Tuition?

Western Governor’s University is a non-profit college… and that may work in your favor.

It’s no secret that going to college can get expensive, and the unique platform of WGU may help drastically cut down on the costs associated with earning a degree. This makes sense when you consider how quickly your competency units can add up when you’re not tied down to a typical, semester-long class schedule!

So, how much can you really expect to save by going to WGU? And what exactly does it cost to earn your degree through their program?

WGU offers a flat-rate tuition plan, along with financial aid for their students. This means that you pay your tuition by term – regardless of how many competencies you complete. So, whether you have a rough term and only complete five units or you speed through the material and complete 15 units, you’ll pay the same amount.

Do you know what that means? The harder you work and the more courses you complete each term, the less expensive your degree program may end up being!

Around 76% of students receive some type of financial aid at WGU (including WGU scholarships), and they work with you to minimize your student debt.

When push comes to shove, you’re generally going to be looking at a savings of 40% or more over tuition at other online colleges!

What Recent Grads Have to Say

WGU program

You’ve worked through your WGU program and earned your degree… now what?

One of the top ways that WGU stands out from the crowd of other online universities is their commitment to helping their students even after graduation, and most students that graduate from this school are highly successful in their careers.

In fact, many top nationwide employers sing the praises of WGU graduates due to their strong skill mastery and ability to think critically – all thanks to the unique competency based learning style!

Consider these stats from a recent Harris Poll Online survey to get a better idea on what makes a WGU degree worthwhile in the long-term:

  • 1,340 WGU graduates reported an average earning increase of $12,300 per year within 2 years of graduation
  • Annual average cost for a bachelor’s degree program was $7,290
  • Results? The return on investment for your WGU program may be less than two years!

Believe it or not, an impressive return on investment isn’t all you might get after graduation from WGU. They also have an impressive post-graduation support system that includes an active alumni community and on-going career and professional development resources for their graduates.

If Western Governors University sounds too good to be true, it isn’t – as long as you have the right mindset going into your degree program.

If you thrive on fast-paced, independent learning, then this type of competency based degree might be your ticket to saving an impressive amount of time and money by graduation.

All in all, the unique style, learning platform, and support offered by WGU are major benefits if you need a streamlined degree program with maximum flexibility. Best of all, you may be heading out into the workforce after graduation knowing that you are well prepared to tackle real-world challenges with the skillset you learned by taking this innovative road to your college degree.

Ready to start your journey?