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Survey: Competency-Based Model Excels for Nontraditionals

For the last five years, Gallup has surveyed a national sampling of 75,000 college graduates to understand their post-college "well-being and workplace engagement." The survey asks questions related to how much people like what they do each day, how strong and supportive their relationships are, their financial stability, their physical states and how much they like and feel safe where they live.

Recently, the survey company did the same specifically for graduates of Western Governors University. The university is known for catering to nontraditional students with an untraditional educational model; it's entirely online and uses competency-based education, which allows students to move through courses as quickly as they can demonstrate their mastery of the material. For the comparison, Gallup analyzed data from WGU undergraduate alumni who received their degrees between 2013 and 2018, and compared it to a national representation of graduates from private, nonprofit institutions and public universities during the same years. The WGU respondents were older (43 versus 30 on average), primarily female (63 percent compared to 53 percent), more likely to be first-generation college graduates (61 percent compared to 35 percent) and more likely to be white (83 percent compared to 66 percent).

In particular, the researchers found that two experiences were more common for students attending WGU than other institutions. Two-thirds (67 percent) had mentors who encouraged them to pursue their goals, compared to a third (35 percent) nationally. And 81 percent had a job or internship that allowed them to apply what they were learning (compared 58 percent nationally).

How well current work is related to undergraduate major

How well current work is related to undergraduate major (Source: "Great Jobs, Great Lives — Gallup Study of Recent Western Governors University Alumni" from Gallup)

WGU graduates also had higher ratings for their well-being across the board. Fifty-seven percent were likely to be thriving in their careers (compared to 38 percent nationally). They reported stronger social lives (50 percent versus 44 percent); sturdier financial situations (44 percent compared to 26 percent); better community engagement (43 percent versus 33 percent); and better physical well-being (28 percent compared to 24 percent).

The research also found that on average, WGU graduates had borrowed about half the amount college graduates nationally had borrowed to finish their degrees, and were almost twice as likely to consider their degrees worth the cost (72 percent versus 40 percent).

The entire report of survey results is available with registration on the Gallup website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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