UW Launches Flexible Degree Program to Aid Workforce Development

In an effort to address the needs of Wisconsin’s workforce and the fill the demand for online education, the University of Wisconsin System has created the UW Flexible Option, a competency-based, self-paced learning option.

The UW Flexible Option is designed for nontraditional adult students who often come to college with substantial learning acquired in a variety of venues. Built by UW faculty members who oversee traditional degree offerings at the 26 UW campuses, the new UW Flexible Option will allow students to earn college credit by demonstrating knowledge they have acquired through coursework, military training, on-the-job training, and other learning experiences. Students will make progress towards a degree by passing a series of assessments that demonstrate mastery of required knowledge and skills.

The new Flexible Option degrees initially will focus on the largest skills gaps in Wisconsin: health care, information technologies and business and management. UW-Milwaukee will offer four degree programs and one certificate program:

  • Two Nursing degrees (R.N.-to-B.S.N. and R.N.-to-M.N.), for Registered Nurses who need additional college to qualify for higher professional credentials
  • A bachelor’s degree-completion program in Diagnostic Imaging, targeted toward certified diagnostic imaging professionals
  • A B.S. in Information Science & Technology, preparing students for jobs in tomorrow’s digital culture and economy
  • A Certificate in Professional and Technical Communication, providing students with the essential written and oral communication skills needed in today’s workplace

UW Colleges will provide an array of general education and liberal arts courses in the new UW Flexible Option format, in core fields such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, business, English, Spanish, geography, and others. The UW Colleges will work to provide the Associate of Arts and Science degree via the UW Flexible Option, which may also meet the general education requirements of four-year degree programs launched by other institutions.

Governor Walker released the following statement regarding the new flexible degrees:

Using a competency-based degree model coupled with online testing has the potential to revolutionize higher education… There is a need for skilled workers in a number of high demand areas such as manufacturing, information technologies, and healthcare. We can help bridge the skills gap by allowing individuals who have learned skills from their employment, from military service, or from other areas to work toward a degree at their own pace.

The new college degrees will be more affordable and accessible for working adults because, in addition to moving at their own pace, students will take only the courses they need at the time they need it rather than during a traditional semester. Students will not have to spend extra time and money on coursework because whenever they are ready to demonstrate mastery of specific competencies, they will complete assessments designed by UW faculty, then move on to the next course or part of a course if they pass the assessment.

The UW System has requested $3 million from the state to fund start-up of the first batch of Flex Option degree programs in the 2013-’15 biennium budget.