University of Wisconsin System's Flexible Degree Program
Innovative ideas delivering higher education continue to change the way we think about earning a degree. Organizations such as MITx, Coursera, and Western Governor's University have developed new models that allow students to gain an education at their own pace, often at a significantly lower cost. A new player, the University of Wisconsin System (UW) is joining the mix and bringing the support of a state-wide institution of public education to bear on the evolution of higher education.
UW has announced its new Flexible Degree plan, touted as the first "self-paced, competency based, online degree programs from a public university system." The new degree program allows students to take classes or partial classes online, receive credit for demonstrating competencies, and apply work experience towards a degree. UW-Extension will employ existing UW faculty and staff to ensure quality and monitor student progress through coursework and assessments.
The Flexible Degree is a competency-focused plan centered on developing necessary skills. Students can forgo full courses and participate in modules designed to meet specific skill gaps. They can combine newly-mastered skills with previous coursework, job experience, and other open courseware options to test out of courses and receive credit. This method allows students to create a learning plan tailored to their specific needs and goals, all at a far lower price point.
This new degree plan is a significant step towards rethinking higher education, as it brings with it UW’s sterling reputation. The system's president, Ray Cross, is leading the project. He sees tremendous potential for this new degree to significantly increase the number of Wisconsites who have earned a bachelor’s degree, according to a recent article. The new program will also target Wisconsin’s specific workforce needs, including business management, healthcare, and IT.
A flexible degree plan that offers online learning and competency-based assessment from a reputable university system is just what the higher education reform movement needed. As this program begins to take root, other colleges and universities facing rising costs and shifting demands can learn from Wisconsin’s example and begin to build similar programs that deliver tailored learning at a lower cost.