The University of Wisconsin System released Wednesday the first flexible option degrees in a new program aimed at helping non-traditional adult students earn degrees.
In the fall of 2013, UW-Milwaukee will begin offering a diagnostic imaging degree, an information science and technology degree, two nursing degrees and a certificate in professional and technical communication. UW Colleges will offer classes in various subjects and will soon be offering an Associate of Arts and Science degree through the flexible option program.
UW System President Kevin Reilly expressed his enthusiasm about the new program, and the flexibility it offers non-traditional students during a news conference Wednesday.
“Today is a watershed day for the people of Wisconsin,” Reilly said. “[Flexible Option] bridges the distance between campuses and learners. This is the 21st century face of the Wisconsin Idea.”
This assessment-based program will allow adults to gain credits toward a degree by testing them on skills, which may have been attained with prior classes or work experience. The faculty designs the courses and assessments, and there would be no difference between a flexible option degree and a regular degree, only the method through which a student got the degree.
UW System spokesperson David Giroux emphasized how the new program does not give out credits for just having work experience, but it instead gives credit for “knowledge acquired through work experience” tested in the assessments.
He said other institutions across the state are developing their own programs with their faculty, but did not have any information on UW. However, he said if the university decided to do it, the program would have the same academic rigor, as it would be developed by faculty. Paul DeLuca, UW Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, was not available for comment by press time.
Mark Peterson, a UW-Washington County professor, explained that the new program could benefit adults who have had years of experience in the workforce and are thinking about finishing a college degree.
“It [doesn't] make sense to suggest that [someone] with 10 years in an accounting firm sit in on an accounting 101 course,” Peterson said. “What [does] make sense was to find ways to offer them access to university credit for what they have learned on the job.”
UW System Regent and UW-Parkside non-traditional student Tracey Hribar also emphasized the unique opportunities the program gives adult students. Hribar explained this program provides a “flexible, affordable, quality education [that] helps students get the degree they need.”
Raymond Cross, chancellor of UW Colleges and UW Extensions, said he was excited about the new program and called it a “game changer,” as it creates new opportunities in higher education.
“[Flexible Option] opens the door to a lot of different things [because] you decouple instruction and learning,” Cross said. “The challenges we face are can we assess competencies … well enough to say this is adequate, appropriate and equal to the existing degrees that we traditionally offer on campuses. We think we can do that.”
Cross also encouraged adults interested in the new program to visit its website at flex.wisconsin.edu. The website includes information, frequently asked questions and a mock course to get a feel for what the courses offered would be like.