1. Chris Etesse, CEO of Flat World Education, interviewed by the author via email, June 24, 2014
2. Dr. Fred Hurst, Senior Vice President, The Extended Campuses of Northern Arizona University, interviewed by the author via email, June 19, 2014
3. "Inside Higher Ed," Competent at What?, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/12/12/lumina-funded-group-seeks-lead-conversation-competency-based-education
4. "Online Learning Consortium," Keeping Pace with Online Learning Trends, http://sloanconsortium.org/news_press/july2013_keeping-pace-online-learning-trends
Pursuing an accredited online education can be the perfect solution for students who need flexibility in terms of class schedules. In fact, over 6.7 million students took at least one online course in 2012, according to the Sloan Consortium.
As online learning becomes more accepted as a quality approach to higher education, more students are finding it to be an appealing option. Take a look at some of the main reasons why online education can be a strong option for students seeking flexibility:
Obstacles to Higher Education
Other responsibilities, not enough time
Online schools offer an array of options designed to let students log-on and learn on their own schedule.
Being far from campus
Distance doesn't stop online learning, allowing students from across the country, abroad, or even at sea to take courses.
Feeling out of place with younger students
Most online students are nontraditional learners who are going back to school after years in the workforce to advance or change their careers.
This flexibility is being taken to a new level with self-paced online colleges. As online learning has continued to evolve and become more mainstream, educational institutions are adapting to students' needs and finding unique ways to help them achieve their goals. One such way is by offering self-paced online college programs that are competency-based, meaning students complete classes when they have demonstrated that they have mastered the coursework.
In other words, no grades, no GPA, no due dates, no deadlines; just you, the student, learning a new skill and earning new credentials. Some programs even allow for those who need to take a hiatus to deal with family issues or work project deadlines. Early support for self-paced online college programs has come from The Lumina Foundation, which has established grants for the development of competency-based degrees.
Here are 6 self-paced online colleges offering innovative programs to provide students the ultimate flexible learning experience:
Northern Arizona University
Northern Arizona University, which launched its Personalized Learning competency-based online Bachelor's degree program in May 2013, gives students credit for their existing knowledge and skill set, and then tailors the remaining coursework so that participants can finish at their own pace online. Currently, Personalized Learning offers degree programs in Computer Information Technology, Liberal Arts and Small Business Administration. "Students can complete their studies when it is convenient for them; during their lunch hour, after they've put the kids to bed at night, while they are waiting in the doctor's office, or even on their morning commute," says Dr. Fred Hurst, Senior Vice President of the Extended Campuses of Northern Arizona University.
University of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin system, in partnership with UW-Extension, offers the UW Flexible Option, which works on a three-month subscription basis in which students can complete as many courses as they want in that time period. Among the competency-based programs being offered through this program include Nursing, Biomedical Sciences Diagnostic Imaging, Information Science and Technology, and a Business and Technical Communications Certificate. Students can earn credit for what they know, advance at their own pace, work with an academic coach, and ultimately graduate with a degree from the University of Wisconsin.
College for America in Southern New Hampshire University
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Innovation Lab developed College for America as a competency-based, self-paced online college that awards degrees based on previously attained skills and newly achieved knowledge. Introducing the idea of no credit hours, it was the first program of its kind to be approved by a regional accreditation agency and by the Department of Education. Some of the degree programs being offered include Communications and Healthcare Management, among others.
Western Governors University
This nonprofit online university also provides a competency-based approach for students seeking to learn at their own pace. As explained on its website: "Each degree program is developed by a council of experts in the field who define 'competencies' students need to possess to graduate." All of its online programs of study follow this model, with programs available in Education, Business, Information Technology, and Healthcare. Students are assigned a mentor to help guide them through the program.
Capella University (Visit School Site)
This online university introduced its self-paced format option called FlexPath, allowing students to complete a series of assessments in each required course. While the programs are still pending approval to qualify for federal financial aid funding, the design of the programs are similar to other schools taking this approach. The difference seems to be that although courses are self-paced, they do have a target completion date of three months. Students who begin their studies with a lot of workplace knowledge and life experience can move through introductory material more quickly to get to the heart of the course.
In collaboration with the technology company Flat World Education, Brandman University, a private, non-profit institution, is developing and launching its online competency-based Bachelor's degree in Business Administration this fall, says Chris Etesse, CEO of Flat World Education. "Student progress is based on mastery of academic material, not completion of credit hours, so students can complete an accredited four-year degree in two years," he says.
As you embark on your educational endeavor, it's important to create a personalized action plan for researching and finding a college that best suits your needs. While you might not yet find a self-paced online college that matches your field of interest, there are plenty of online schools that make flexibility a key value of their program offerings. Do some exploring using our Top Online Colleges Tool and choosing the "flexibility" tab to find online schools that address your nontraditional student needs.