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How busy online students reap the benefits of CBE programs

Students in today’s higher education landscape are busier than ever before. Colleges and universities typically see sizable enrollment growth following every major economic recession, but the shift in enrollment trends following the Great Recession set a new precedent.

Not only did enrollment numbers grow, but an increasing percentage of students in the years that followed the recession identified as being older than the traditional college student, balancing full- or part-time work, having a family to care for – or all three. Today, nontraditional students represent nearly 74 percent of the American student population.

Adult learners who are juggling several important life commitments have become the new norm in higher education. As a result, colleges and universities are beginning to accommodate students’ evolving needs by offering increasingly flexible — and increasingly affordable — opportunities for learning.

One of the more dynamic options available today is competency-based education (CBE). This learning model enables students to experience the same outcomes expected from traditional programs with the added convenience of an online program that’s customizable and self-paced.

You can learn more about this evolving learning modality from students who’ve reaped the benefits of CBE programs. Join us as we review some of the basics of CBE.

What is competency-based learning, exactly?

Competency-based learning models were created to help free busy students from some of the restrictions common among traditional, time-based programs that award credits for completing a set number of hours. CBE considers that some students may master certain subjects faster than others. It allows students to pinpoint which subjects they’d prefer to spend a bit of extra time on.

Most CBE programs use a subscription-based tuition model, which gives students the opportunity to work through as many competencies as they can within a set time frame. The faster you work through the content, the more affordable your degree will be. Dr. Laurie Dodge, vice chancellor of institutional assessment and planning at University of Massachusetts Global, was instrumental in developing the institution’s CBE program called UMass Global MyPath.

“CBE is really when the learning is fixed, and the time is variable,” Dr. Dodge explains. “The focus is on mastery of the competencies, so students must demonstrate that they can do certain things before they can progress further in their programs.”

When designing UMass Global MyPath™, Dr. Dodge and her team looked into what students would need to understand and do to be successful in the workplace. These frameworks helped the team see what knowledge, skills and abilities they should build into the program.

“It really is a disruptive innovator in higher education,” Dr. Dodge says. “It’s affordable, it’s accessible, it’s mobile, it’s online and it’s quality. I think these are the things that students are taking away in a competency-based program.”

Students share the benefits of a CBE program

A survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of University of Massachusetts Global found that 63 percent of polled adults who do not have a bachelor’s degree and are not pursuing one cite cost as the biggest barrier holding them back. Many also mentioned they lack the time it would take to obtain a degree. Yet nearly 78 percent of these adults agree there are significant benefits to earning a degree from an accredited university.

“Working adults recognize the value of earning a degree, but they are not able to put their lives on hold to go back to college — and many are concerned about the cost,” explains University of Massachusetts Global chancellor Gary Brahm. “It is clear that working adults in the U.S. need access to affordable degree programs that allow them to balance the demands of work and family life.”

For students craving flexibility and affordability, CBE programs yield a number of benefits.

CBE programs make going back to school accessible for everyone

When 58-year-old Venita Campagna was forced out of retirement after her husband’s battle with cancer drained their savings, she realized she would need to earn a bachelor’s degree to make more than minimum wage. Campagna was initially halted by fears that she was too old to be successful in a higher education environment. But once she discovered UMass Global MyPath™, her perspective shifted.

“This program has given me confidence and hope. It proves you’re never too old to go back to college,” Campagna says. For her, the ability to move through content quickly is a huge plus, adding:


The quicker I work, the faster I earn my degree — and the faster I earn it, the less it costs” 

The inherent flexibility CBE programs provide isn’t just beneficial for older students looking to find their footing in a contemporary college environment. Jessica Welch, vice president for operations at the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce, knew she’d need something that could accommodate her busy schedule when she was presented with an opportunity to advance her education. After learning that the UMass Global MyPath™ programs are both self-paced and fully online, Welch was interested.

“It’s a perfect fit,” she says. Welch adds that completing her degree through this program is the only way she can go to school and juggle her children’s sports and school activities, while supporting her husband’s small business and fulfilling her own growing responsibilities at work.

“It’s the most convenient, low-cost way to continue your education that I’ve ever heard of,” Welch enthuses. “There’s a great misconception that college is expensive and inaccessible, but it really is so doable.” 

CBE programs help personalize your educational experience

Joe Pishgar, a UMass Global MyPath™ alumnus and current director of community at a media conglomerate, particularly recalls his statistics course when reflecting on the time he spent pursuing his degree. “That took me months to get through,” he reminisces.

Even after going through multiple versions of one course’s final, he was still on pace to reach his goal time frame for earning his Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration. The ability to work at his own pace allowed Pishgar to spend some extra time strengthening his skills in a subject he found more challenging. Ultimately, enrolling in a CBE program enabled Pishgar to complete both a professional and personal milestone. He explains:


I’ve always wanted to get a degree. I will be the first person in my family to get one.

The beauty of self-paced CBE programs, Chancellor Brahm notes, lies in the ability to personalize the learning experience. “It allows students to focus on what they need to learn, not what they already know,” he explains. “That is particularly important to working adults.”

CBE can help you overcome barriers to career advancement

After originally dropping out of college, Pishgar harnessed his expertise in gaming and development to establish himself as an asset in the community management world. He quickly started rising through the ranks of running online communities. Despite his proven success, he realized that most positions required a college degree whenever he searched for new jobs.

“I was getting rejected automatically,” he recalls. “Human resources would filter out the resumes without those credentials after the name. I knew I needed to get a degree.” Not only was Pishgar able to earn that coveted degree, but he also found that doing so allowed him to take the lessons he was learning in his coursework and immediately apply them to his work.

UMass Global MyPath™ grad Amanda Harvey had a similar experience. She spent more than a decade in the professional world before coming to terms with the fact that she’d need to pursue additional education to move forward in her career.

“I was at the ceiling of where I could go with my career,” Harvey says.

But thanks to MyPath™, I finished my bachelor’s degree in less than two years.

She now considers her decision to complete her degree to be life-changing.

You could find success in a CBE program

If you’ve been searching for a way to enhance your educational qualifications without disrupting your busy life, CBE could be a good option. Programs like UMass Global MyPath™ help students achieve their goals at a pace that makes sense for them. It’s clear that students from all walks of life can find success in a competency-based learning model. Could you become one of them?

If you’re intrigued by the potential benefits of a CBE program, you might want to learn more about the ins and outs of this innovative, self-paced model. Find the information you’re looking for by heading over to our article, “Self-paced learning: What to expect from a CBE program.”



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