Working Adults in Detroit Area Enrolling in Competency-Based Online University

Nonprofit WGU allows adult learners to pursue in-demand careers at their own pace

DETROIT - Imagine earning credit toward a college degree by demonstrating what you know, rather than how many hours you sit in the classroom. It’s called competency-based education and it’s becoming a popular option for adult learners in the greater Detroit area, who have busy lives and are seeking a new career in an in-demand field.

Competency-based education is not new but has gained momentum as educators and students have come to appreciate its flexible structure. Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, online university established in 1997 by 19 U.S. governors, uses the competency-based model to help mature learners pursue degrees in health, nursing, business, teaching and information technology.

According to WGU, 1,828 students are enrolled in Michigan, including 611 adult learners from greater Detroit.

“Our programs offer adult, contemporary students education-to-career pathways in in-demand fields with well-paying jobs,” said Rebecca Watts, regional vice president of WGU. “WGU’s competency-based model enables students to demonstrate what they are learning as they progress through their programs rather than spending time in class to accumulate credit hours.”

Watts said the average age of a WGU student is 36, and more than three-quarters of the university’s students work full time while pursuing their studies. “To ensure that the skills our students learn are current and relevant, we collaborate with employers in the development and ongoing transformation of our curriculum,” she said.

WGU students earn credit by showing that they have mastered the competencies required in each course, and they can accelerate through the program in doing so. They can take as many courses in a semester as they can complete—all for the same price. New students begin every month, all year, and each student gets intensive one-on-one support from faculty.

The average time it takes to obtain a bachelor’s degree from WGU is about two years and three months, at a cost of about $15,000. According to the university’s data, the average WGU graduate sees an annual salary boost of nearly $20,000.





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