My Experience with WGU’s Competency Based Master’s Degree Program
Back in the fall of 2014, I made the decision to pursue a graduate degree. I knew that I wanted the degree to be relevant to my career and provide me an opportunity to expand on what I had learned during my undergraduate work as well as to round out my experiences during my career. I also knew that I did not want to spend a lot on my graduate degree. Looking at AIU, where I earned my undergraduate degree, the cost of a graduate degree from AIU was beyond my budget.
After doing some research and talking about my aspirations with colleagues and friends who were also in degree programs one of them mentioned their experience with Western Governors University (WGU). WGU is a private, non-profit university founded and supported by the Governors of 19 states. The university started accepting students in 1999 and as of the end of October of 2016 has just over 76,000 students enrolled in one of their degree-granting courses of study.
My experience at WGU was a great experience. Once accepted you are paired with a student mentor. This individual works with you along the way to guide you and encourage you as you make your way through the program. I entered the Masters of Science in Management and Leadership program at WGU. This program consisted of 10 courses of study and is designed to take just about two years to complete. It is at this point that WGU's approach to distance based learning sets itself apart by offering a differentiated online learning experience.
WGU is unlike a traditional university in that they charge a flat fee for tuition based on a 6-month term. So, you can take as many courses you want during that 6-month term for the same fixed cost. Of course, if you are utilizing financial aid you need to maintain certain course hours to keep that financial aid. WGU does not use credit hours. Instead, they refer to credits as competency units. For example, there was a Management Communications course during my course of study that I was able to complete in just one week. I utilized my experience during my career to show competency to the course evaluator through a written report as well as a PowerPoint presentation. Other courses took me up to 6 to 8 weeks to complete because of work or other commitments which slowed me down.
Like AIU, every single course had a writing component to it. The student is asked to write a report or prepare a presentation or both. So to be successful, you need to be comfortable with writing academic papers in a way that shows you have competency in the course material. One of the courses in this program also had a team component to it, so you are faced with a real work scenario where you have to bring five strangers together to complete the project. Keep in mind that each member may be in a different course of study and various stages of completion, so all of these factors need to be taken into account as you work with this team setting. For me, we all were on the same page and were able to submit our final presentation within five weeks of starting the course.
Are their tests?
One other item I liked about the WGU experience is that there were also tests that were administered for many of the courses. So, like a traditional university, WGU also utilized multiple choice tests to measure competency of course material. In all cases, even if there was a test, there was always a writing component. They utilize a live proctoring service delivered via a video camera (that they provide). The protector monitors the testing environment in your home so that you can take the test at home but protect the integrity of the testing process. Students also have the option of going to a testing center to take the tests as well. WGU has a department that sets this up for you, and it is part of what your assigned student mentor can help you with as well.
If you are looking to start a degree program, whether undergraduate or graduate, I would highly recommend looking into WGU. It is an affordable, accredited institution that takes a unique approach to course delivery and utilizes their competency-based approach which is unique in this space. They offer programs in technology, teaching, business, and health care. If you are looking to advance your career in one of these disciplines by going back to college, I recommend that you give WGU serious consideration.