Governor Scott Walker and University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly provided more details about UW System’s Flexible Option degree program at a press conference in Milwaukee yesterday. The program was announced earlier this year, but with few details. Many UW System campuses, including UW-Madison, already offer online courses or degrees, but this is the first degree program that awards credit for demonstrated competencies.
Enrollment in the program will begin in Fall 2013. Four degrees will be offered by UW-Milwaukee — bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing, a bachelor’s degree in diagnostic imaging, a bachelor of science in information science and technology, and a certificate in professional and technical communication. UW Colleges will also offer general studies courses in a flexible, online format and award associate of arts and science degrees. Several other campuses, including UW-Parkside, hope to have programs ready by Fall 2014.
Students enrolled in the program will work at their own pace and can take Flex Option courses or take free online courses through MOOCs — massive open online courses, such as Udacity, edX, and Coursera. Students may also receive credit for work outside the classroom, such as military experience or on-the-job training.
Students must demonstrate competency by completing assessments designed by UW faculty, and students will be held to the same standards required for all UW degrees, which will not be differentiated from a traditional brick-and-mortar degree. UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mike Lovell said he is “confident that the UWM degrees (students) earn through the new Flex Option platform will carry the same prestige in the workplace.”
Increasing the number of degree-holders in Wisconsin is a primary impetus for the program. Currently only 25.5% of Wisconsinites have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 31.2% of Minnesotans. Minnesota enjoys higher per-capita income and lower rates of poverty, unemployment, and incarceration.
This degree program is meant to reach out to the estimated 700,000 to 1 million state residents who have some college credit, but have not completed a degree. Governor Scott Walker told reporters yesterday that he might even take advantage of the program to complete his degree.