By Lisa A. Eramo
If you’ve been thinking of going back to school, you’ve no doubt noticed the high cost of college tuition. As a working adult, college tuition is of special concern given that you likely already have other large financial responsibilities, from a home mortgage to supporting your family.
In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the college tuition situation facing today’s aspiring degree holders and examine how the new wave of competency-based education programs could help returning adult learners like you save both time and money.
College tuition costs trending up
According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics, derived from the 2013–2014 academic year, the annual amount for an undergraduate education (including tuition, room, and board) is $15,640 at public institutions, $40,614 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,135 at private for-profit institutions. Online degree programs may offer more flexible options, and no room and board costs, but expenses are still high, often costing students $300 to $500 or more per credit and equating to an average of nearly $63,000 for a bachelor’s degree at a for-profit university.
What’s disheartening is that the cost of college tuition doesn’t seem to be leveling out any time soon. Bloomberg found that the cost of obtaining a college degree increased by 1,120 percent over the past 35 years. The College Board Advocacy & Policy Center’s findings echoed this sentiment, adding that the increase has become even more apparent in the last few years. According to its Annual Survey of Colleges, the average published tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities increased by 19% beyond the rate of inflation over the five years from 2003–04 to 2008–09, and by another 27% between 2008–09 and 2013–14.
A Wall Street Journal report revealed that the average Class of 2014 graduate would owe $33,000 in student loans. Many students are unable to find jobs that pay enough to offset this debt, leading to what experts in higher education now term a serious student debt crisis. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, balances of student loans have surpassed both auto loans and credit cards, making student loan debt the largest form of consumer debt outside of mortgages.
Competency-based education—disrupting the tuition trend?
Thankfully, today’s returning adult learners have realistic options that won’t cripple them financially in the long term. Competency-based education (CBE) programs such as the University of Wisconsin (UW) Flexible Option are positioned to transform higher education by emphasizing what students know and can do rather than how long they spend studying a particular topic. With CBE, self-motivated and self-directed students receive a high-quality and efficient education at an affordable price.
CBE rewards students for their in-depth knowledge of a topic. Therefore, students can complete these programs in a fraction of the time it would take to pursue a traditional on-campus or traditional online program and at a fraction of the cost. Students who complete a competency-based degree program also prove to potential employers that they possess an unparalleled mastery of their core subject area.
Flexing time and saving money
Dan Fitch, an experienced IT professional, and now student in the UW Flexible Option’s Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Technology program, says CBE is the perfect option for working adults who already possess a wealth of knowledge and who simply don’t have the time and money to devote to a traditional curriculum filled with information they already know. At UW, students enrolled in Flexible Option programs pay a flat rate for one of two subscription options rather than per course or per credit. The more students know, the faster they can progress through the program, saving college tuition as they go.
“Flex works really well for my life. I don’t think I would have been able to do this any other way,” says Fitch. “If I had to do it with normal online classes, this would take me more than five years while working full-time. If I did on-campus, I would have to quit my job.”
Because of his work experience and skills, Fitch says he will complete 32 credits in just three months. Using the Flexible Option’s “All-You-Can-Learn” subscription option, Fitch will only pay a flat rate of $2,250 for these credits. An average full-time student in a traditional on-campus or traditional online program would complete only 12 credits per semester. At an average cost of $300–$400 (or more) per credit, this means that students like Fitch could save nearly $9,000 per semester—and complete their degrees significantly faster.
“I don’t even want to think about what that would cost me through another program. For a self-powered learning experience, Flex is the best option,” he adds.
To find out more about the UW Flexible Option and whether this competency-based education option is a good fit for you, call a friendly enrollment adviser today at 1-877-895-3276.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2014 and has been updated to include more recent data.