Prospective college students can start signing up for the University of Wisconsin (UW) System’s new flexible degree program, a statewide online learning initiative lauded by campus technologists.

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The flexible degrees will be available on 14 campuses.

Admissions to the program opened Nov. 18. UW officials promoted the much-anticipated launch at a news conference.

The web-based initiative allows students to earn college credit by demonstrating knowledge gleaned from the workplace, military experience or coursework on tests. The online program is designed to help working adults earn degrees faster.

The new Flexible Option degrees initially will focus on the largest skills gaps in Wisconsin: health care, information technologies, and business and management.

UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Michael Lovell announced during a news conference last month that the school will repackage existing courses into mostly online formats.

The program will begin at UW-Milwaukee and the UW System’s 13 two-year schools. UW-Milwaukee is offering the option for its nursing program, biomedical diagnostic imaging program, and IT program. The two-year schools are offering it for a number of associate degree programs, including biology, chemistry, computer science and engineering.

Other campuses plan to offer flex options later next year.

About 20 percent of Wisconsin adults have some postsecondary course credit, according to state statistics. These adults, if enrolled in the new online competency-based model, would not have to begin their higher education in the most basic classes, saving them money and time.

See page 2 for why one educator says a competency-based online model “never felt smarter”…

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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