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Competency-based public degree program moves forward

University of Wisconsin System reveals details about its flexible online degrees for working adults

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Whenever they’re ready to demonstrate mastery of specific competencies, students will complete assessments designed by University of Wisconsin System faculty.

University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly has revealed new details about what is expected to be the first set of 100-percent, competency-based online degree programs for working adults offered through a public university system. The programs will begin next fall through UW-Milwaukee and the two-year UW Colleges.

The new Flexible Option degrees initially will focus on the largest skills gaps in Wisconsin: health care, information technologies, and business and management. Other University of Wisconsin System campuses are expected to follow in the next few years with additional flexible degrees that working adults can earn online at their own pace.

UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Michael Lovell announced during a news conference last month that the school will repackage existing courses into mostly online formats for the following Flexible Option degrees: a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nursing; a bachelor’s degree-completion program in diagnostic imaging; a bachelor of science in Information Science & Technology; and a certificate in Professional and Technical Communication.

The two-year UW Colleges will begin providing liberal arts courses in the flexible, competency-based online format, and they will offer an associate of arts and science degree to help working adults advance in the workplace or to meet general education requirements for four-year degrees launched by other institutions.

The University of Wisconsin System already offers 4,600 online courses and 120 online degree programs, but it previously has not had a flexible option for students to work at their own pace and take as many courses as they can finish for a flat fee. Other schools, such as the private Western Governor’s University, also offer competency-based online options—but the UW System might be the first public university system in the nation to offer such programs.

The cost of the flexible degrees, which will not be differentiated from degrees earned at UW campuses, is yet to be determined. It’s likely to depend on the cost of competency assessments, UW officials said during the news conference at UW-Milwaukee.

(Next page: How the new program could be a ‘game changer’ in higher education)

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