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157 and Counting: A Review of Competency-Based Programs Available Today

Competency-based education (CBE) continues to establish itself as a growing trend in higher education, with as many as 600 colleges and universities reported to be developing competency-based programs in 2015.

With a growing number of institutions offering more flexible and personalized options for higher education, the number of programs and courses offered is also on the rise. Advanced nursing degree programs have historically been among the first offered in the CBE format. Newer to the scene are programs in computer science, helping students acquire the highly-coveted coding skills. It’s clear the CBE landscape is increasingly diverse.

To give you a better understanding of the variety of programs offered in the CBE format, we analyzed the competency-based degree programs in 31 accredited universities and colleges.

competency based education programs

Thirty of them, including Rasmussen College, are members of the Competency-Based Education Network – a group of regionally accredited colleges set up to advance the agenda of CBE. And, we have also included Western Governors University known proverbially as the grandfather of competency-based education for its early accomplishments in the field.

Between the institutions we profiled, we found a total of 157 competency-based programs, spanning seven fields of study and offered at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and even the PhD level.

Looking at the chart above, you can easily spot that business degrees dominate the conversation and make up one-third of all the CBE programs we have found. Popular subjects for competency-based degrees within business include business administration, accounting, human resources and healthcare management.

Surprisingly, education was runner-up on the list of most popular degree subjects with 35 programs currently offered in the United States. Dominated by teaching programs with a focus on science, degree subjects under education also include special education and curriculum development.

Information technology (IT) followed closely in third place, with 32 programs available. The most popular subjects being information technology, software development, cyber security and health informatics.  

Degrees in healthcare are represented mostly by nursing programs, whereas most competency-based programs in the social sciences are in psychology and communication. Most notably, the social sciences category hosted the only competency-based doctoral program, a PhD in leadership and change.

With four programs each, arts and humanities and science and technology are the least represented among the competency-based programs offered by the colleges in our analysis.  That said, selected colleges do offer degrees in graphic design, arts, biomedical sciences and manufacturing.

Universities and colleges at the heart of the CBE movement might not yet offer degrees in more conventional degree subjects such as economics, philosophy or English. Hard sciences such as physics and chemistry, don’t appear on the list of programs either. However, the focus on career and employment that drives the competency-based movement in higher education might mean that more academic subjects won’t appear on the lists of competency-based programs for a while.

Choose wisely

Competency-based education is an exciting new initiative in higher education and its core mission is to validate the skills you’ll need to help you achieve your career aspirations in today’s job market. There are more than 150 programs to choose from already and that number is likely to increase in the future.

However, before fully committing to enrolling in a competency-based program, it’s important to be sure the flexible, personalized, self-paced approach suits your personality and learning style.

Checkout this interactive checklist to find out if CBE is a good fit for you: Is Self-Paced Learning Right for You? [Checklist]

Callie Malvik

Callie is the Content Manager at Collegis Education, overseeing blog content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about creating quality resources that empower others to improve their lives through education.

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