This is the future:
Wisconsin officials tout the UW Flexible Option as the first to offer multiple, competency-based bachelor’s degrees from a public university system. Officials encourage students to complete their education independently through online courses, which have grown in popularity through efforts by companies such as Coursera, edX and Udacity.
No classroom time is required under the Wisconsin program except for clinical or practicum work for certain degrees.
Elsewhere, some schools offer competency-based credits or associate degrees in areas such as nursing and business, while Northern Arizona University plans a similar program that would offer bachelor’s degrees for a flat fee, said spokesman Eric Dieterle. But no other state system is offering competency-based bachelor’s degrees on a systemwide basis.
Wisconsin’s Flexible Option program is “quite visionary,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, an education policy and lobbying group that represents some 1,800 accredited colleges and universities.
In Wisconsin, officials say that about 20% of adult residents have some college credits but lack a degree. Given that a growing number of jobs require a degree, the new program appeals to potential students who lack the time or resources to go back to school full time.
“It is a big new idea in a system like ours, and it is part of the way the ground is shifting under us in higher education,” said Kevin Reilly, president of the University of Wisconsin System, which runs the state’s 26 public-university campuses.
Under the Flexible Option, assessment tests and related online courses are being written by faculty who normally teach the related subject-area classes, Mr. Reilly said.
Officials plan to launch the full program this fall, with bachelor’s degrees in subjects including information technology and diagnostic imaging, plus master’s and bachelor’s degrees for registered nurses. Faculty are working on writing those tests now.