Starting next fall, the University of Wisconsin system is offering the first competency-based online degree program in the nation. This program, called the “UW Flexible Option,” will allow adult students to earn a bachelor’s by passing a series of assessments that determine competency in a field of study.
The UW Flexible Option targets working adults who never completed a bachelor’s degree for various reasons and want to increase their job opportunities and salaries with an advanced degree. Also, for those who received on-the-job training but no formal education in that career, UW Flexible Option’s assessments hope to determine if those acquired skills are equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. Those who enroll in this program will have access to the UW resources and graduate with a traditional degree, but be able to take classes whenever they want without ever stepping foot onto the university.
But does a degree earned “off campus” have the same caché - and value - as a traditional degree? Does offering this option devalue the University of Wisconsin brand? With universities facing increasing costs and decreasing resources, could “flexible” learning be the direction of higher education? Is it possible to have the university experience without being physically present at the university?
Aaron Brower, provost, University of Wisconsin Extension
Barmak Nassirian, independent higher education policy consultant, formerly Associate Executive Director, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)
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