Working adults are the focus of the Flexible Option degrees, a new competency-based online degree program which the University of Wisconsin System will begin in the fall through UW-Milwaukee and the two-year UW Colleges. The program will begin with degrees in health care, information technologies, and business and management, targeting the estimated 700,000 to one million Wisconsin residents who have earned some college credit but have not completed a degree.
“It gives nontraditional learners another way to finish their degrees,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said in an article in eCampus News. “With the strongly underlined emphasis on competency, it’s not about becoming a degree factory. I think there’s a way to maintain that high standard and still be adaptable and flexible.”
The UW system currently offers 4,600 online courses and 120 online degrees, but this is the first time it has offered degree programs that allow students to work at their own pace while paying a flat fee for as many courses as they can finish.
Students only have to take courses needed to attain the degree they are working toward. Students can move through the coursework quicker if they can pass the competency exams for the class.
UW faculty will oversee the academic quality of the coursework and will design and assess the specific competencies students must master to move on to the next course. Working adults will be able to start the Flexible Option at any time during the calendar year and advisors will be made available at the estimated ratio of one to every 85 students.
“It’s visionary and evolutionary,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. “This is acknowledging the growing diversity of who college students are and finding an effective way to give them the first-rate opportunities traditional students on campuses have had for decades.”