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.

Students who enroll in UW’s nontraditional degree program could receive financial help from federal and state grants and employer-sponsored grants. Employers involved in the Flexible Degree program will also help recent graduates pay back loans used to fund their education.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, associate professor of education policy studies at UW, wrote in a blog post that a competency-based approach was worth the investment, because “credit for sitting in a seat for a certain amount of time has never felt smart.”

“One way to ensure quality is pushed higher is to encourage the kinds of students who now take in-person courses to try out these online classes, perhaps in summer, and have them … respond with their demands,” Goldrick-Rab wrote. “They will help raise the bar and keep standards high. In other words, diverse online classes of learners, rather than segregated ones, will ensure the quality of instruction.”


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