Public university becomes first to endorse untraditional online model

Goldrick-Rab, like many educators who supported the attempt to oust Walker in a June 6 recall election, said she was wary of the governor’s involvement in the Flexible Degree initiative.

“I have a hard time believing he has the best interests of UW System at heart,” she wrote. “That said, I don’t think this was Walker’s idea, and I don’t think his interest in it means it’s necessarily a bad idea.”

Walker applauded UW decision makers for embracing an approach that, so far, has only been used by for-profit schools and nontraditional colleges and universities.

“This new model for delivering higher education will help us close the skills gap at an affordable price to get Wisconsin working again,” Walker said. “As states across the country work to improve access and affordability in higher education, I am proud to support this exciting and innovative University of Wisconsin solution.”

The competency-based learning model gained national attention last summer when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $4.5 million to WGU, a Utah-based nonprofit online school formed in 1999 with about 20,000 students. The grant money was used to bolster the university’s web-based programs in Indiana, Washington state, and Texas.

The Gates Foundation selected WGU’s subsidiary programs largely because students there can advance toward a degree by demonstrating knowledge and skills, rather than taking redundant credit hours, said Hilary Pennington, the foundation’s director of postsecondary success.

“College students have changed, and it’s time higher education made some changes to keep up with them,” said Pennington, adding that the foundation awarded the grant to WGU “because they have a strong track record of providing a high-quality, affordable, and flexible college experience that meets the needs of today’s students.”

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