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What are the advantages of competency-based programs? 

By Michael Feder

At a glance

  • Competency-based (CB) programs focus on developing specific skills, referred to as competencies, that are assessed through a rigorous, self-paced program intended for students who have experience in their field.
  • Flexibility, the opportunity to decrease time to graduation, and a lower cost are some benefits of CB programs.
  • Most importantly, competency-based learning is tailored to students who have deep experience to lend to the degree program, and this expertise is acknowledged as a requirement of admittance.
  • Faculty play a role in CB programs that is slightly different from a traditional program at University of Phoenix. While students are often tasked to learn the material independently, faculty help students bolster their expertise and comprehension through regular interaction.
  • Competency-based programs are not for everyone, particularly individuals who are new to the degree area or require a more structured schedule.

University of Phoenix offers competency-based programs at the graduate level in Business AdministrationInformation Systems and Health Administration and at the undergraduate level in Nurse Leadership.

In his 36 years as a Costco employee, Scott Kirby has spent 32 of them in a management position. In 2020, Kirby decided to pursue his education, earning a Bachelor of Science in Management degree from University of Phoenix (UOPX) in 2020.

After he finished his degree, the opportunity arose to take his skill set further. He found out about the MBA-CB program at UOPX and signed up. He sums up the experience:

“I loved what it created within me. I entered the program knowing I could work independently, at my own pace, and without outside influence from other students. I came out with the instructors’ dedication to motivate me to participate in the process.”

This was Kirby’s first experience in a competency-based program (or CB). CB programs focus on self-paced academic progress that helps students develop a mastery of the necessary skills within a degree program. This degree is intended for students who have existing expertise in the subject area. 

What is a competency-based program?

Competency-based programs allow students to leverage the skills they already have to earn their degree faster. This effectively puts them in the driver’s seat of their education. This type of education stands apart from traditional degree programs at UOPX in a number of ways, including:

  • Self-paced progress through the coursework
  • Generally shorter time to graduation
  • Prior work experience admission requirements
  • Demonstration of mastery of learning rather than just comprehension

In competency-based programs, students’ progress through the program when they have mastered certain skills and demonstrate that mastery. Instead of assessing students’ academic progress according to a traditional UOPX course calendar, such as through a mid-term or final exam, CB programs allow students to demonstrate their skills through robust assessments when they’re ready to do so.

What are the advantages of competency-based programs?

There’s a certain kind of student who can benefit the most from a CB program, but it’s not for everyone.

“This program is for someone driven and motivated to deliver quality results while receiving a quality education,” Kirby says. “One must be organized and able to multitask not only their school load but also their work and life load.”

For students who are ready for the challenge, there are certain benefits that can make the effort worthwhile.


At UOPX, material for a competency-based course is open and accessible to a student for 16 weeks, and the student gets to decide when they want to complete their coursework. If an important life event comes up one week, such as a family event or work-related travel, the student can take a lighter load that week. Then, when they have more time, the student can take on more study during a less hectic week.

This gives learners a significant amount of flexibility in how they pursue their degrees.

Faculty support

With faculty to coach them, CB students always have someone to talk to during the program. Faculty bring real-world experience and technical knowledge, providing feedback and support for students. As practitioners in the field of study, faculty members connect the dots between the competencies attained in the program and their real-world applications.

In addition to guiding students through the coursework, faculty members also grade assignments throughout the program. This allows faculty to develop a perspective on each student’s unique progress.

The feedback received from faculty helps already-expert students to continue to hone their insights, producing deliverables that are relevant to their day-to-day work.

Practical assessments

Every assessment in a competency-based education program connects with a specific competency that aligns to a learner’s current employment or future career prospects.

Lower cost and less time

At UOPX, CB programs can be completed in less than a year and with a lower cost per credit compared to a traditional degree program at UOPX. Lower cost and less time spent in these programs allow students to move more quickly from learning about to applying competencies.

This benefit does not come easy, however. Students must exert a great amount of commitment and motivation to work their way through these rigorous, self-paced programs.

For this reason (and others) it’s important to remember that CB programs aren’t for everyone. In fact, several aspects of a traditional UOPX program might be better for certain students.


What are the advantages of the traditional degree model?

Set schedules and deadlines

Some students work better with pre-set due dates, instead of deciding on deadlines themselves with instructor input. For this reason, traditional UOPX degree programs have a less individualized pace, which may be better for some students who have difficulty finding that pace independently.

Admission requirements for those without work experience

Competency-based programs are suited to individuals with work experience in their field of study, and program admissions requirements reflect this.

Learn more about competency-based programs at University of Phoenix!

If you’re interested in pursuing a competency-based degree, learn more about offerings from University of Phoenix. At UOPX, students take three or four courses at their own pace every 16-week period with the support of a faculty mentor. At UOPX, CB courses have the same rigor as their traditional counterparts but allow students the opportunity to earn a degree in less time and at a lower cost.

Think a CB program is the right fit for you? Learn more about UOPX competency-based degree programs:

If you need more information to decide if a CB program is right for you, learn more about the differences between traditional and competency-based learning degree programs at UOPX. For more information, visit Online Competency Based Degree Programs.

What are the main differences between traditional UOPX degree programs and CB degree programs?

Duration: Traditional degree programs at UOPX generally take about 14-27 months to complete, while CB degrees can take less than a year.

Learning style: Traditional degree programs are instructor-led and follow a traditional class format. On the other hand, CB degrees are self-paced with faculty guidance and competency assessments.

Pace: Traditional degree programs move at a pace of one 5-6 week course at a time, while CB degrees have students complete four courses over four months, each course taken one at a time.

Requirements: Traditional degrees require general admission requirements for admitted students. CB programs, on the other hand, require relevant work experience and GPA minimums.

Cost: Visit to learn more about the cost of competency-based degree programs at University of Phoenix!


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