University absorbs cost of missing federal aid for online program

Now, the Department of Education is being asked to approve financial aid for Flex just as it’s constructed — rather than trying to squeeze it into something it’s not, Brower said.

In the interim, some of the $8 million in UW System funds earmarked to launch the Flexible Option degree program will be used as in-house financial assistance, Brower said.

“Our commitment is, until approval comes through, we will provide financial assistance to students up to the full cost of tuition, based on their need as established by standard, need-based processes,” Brower said.

The form used to determine federal financial aid eligibility is being used in the interim by the UW System to determine eligibility for UW financial assistance, he said.

If it took six months to work out the financial aid snag, and all 250 students enrolled by then required assistance to cover their entire tuition, the maximum amount the UW System would award in unplanned financial assistance during that time would be about $1 million.

The UW expects the program to be self-supporting through tuition within three to five years.

Buffet vs. a la carte

The Flex Option offers three-month “subscription periods” during which students can access learning materials, receive academic support and complete competency tests.

For each subscription period, students can choose between an “all-you-can-learn” option for $2,250, in which they try to master as many skill sets — and pass as many assessments — as they can, or a “single competency-set” option for $900, which allows them to focus on mastering one skill set.