University of Wisconsin is unveiling a new program, UW-Madison Online, that will give non-traditional students more access to education.

According to a UW news release, UW-Madison Online is geared towards students who are unable to attend classes in-person and have obligations to maintain. The program will start with an online undergraduate degree in personal finance. 

Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in the news release the university hopes to increase access for nontraditional undergraduates. Blank said personal finance had an increase in popularity nationally — the degree at UW is also ranked second in the country. 

The School of Human Ecology offers the personal finance degree on campus, and SoHE will direct the first online degree for nontraditional undergraduates, according to the news release. Dean Soyeon Shim said the university invested in research with consulting companies to narrow which programs are in high demand. 

“Personal Finance happens to be one of the highly recommended areas based on research [since] there is a demand for jobs or other professional programs in this area,” Shim said.

Shim said SoHE is excited and prepared for personal finance online. Shim said the faculty are thrilled to get this opportunity because they already have the online savviness and saw the chance to renovate their curriculum. 

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Shim said the faculty are now able to offer degree programs for students on and off-campus.

“We think this is a great opportunity for our students on campus, and [it fills] unmet needs in the community,” Shim explained.

Shim explained the program is geared toward students who are unable to come to UW because of family or job obligations. With this program, the university can further their mission of supporting students by using technology, Shim said. 

Shim said the university is able to fulfill their mission with the assistance of technology.

“University of Wisconsin is [a] land grant university which means it is designed to support people in general, but we didn’t have the technology around 175 years ago,” Shim said. “Today, the same concept [applies] to everyone, but the technology is available.”

Shim said personal finance is a pilot program to develop the framework for other degrees that go online in the future. Shim said SoHE needed to organize the logistics of the education, advising and course delivery within the curriculum. 

Shim said Blank wanted to start with one program to test the viability of putting a degree online. Shim said the university is taking time to implement the program to ensure the quality is present.

“We are going with the one program to test the system, and the market and response from potential students,” Shim said.

Jeffrey Russell, Vice Provost for Lifelong Learning and Dean of Continuing Studies, explains the university is still determining which degrees will be offered for the future.

Russell said the degrees selected to be online will be based on the needs of the students. 

“We plan to add new degree options each year to increase the number of fully online degrees available,” Russell said.

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Russell said the program is starting personal finance as the first degree online because the degree continues to implement the Wisconsin Idea within its curriculum. This degree gives opportunities to people in Wisconsin and across the U.S.

Russell said the overall outcome in providing degrees online is to reach more people.

“UW–Madison Online offers access to people who can’t be on campus in person but want to earn a bachelor’s degree and further their career,” Russell said.

The online personal finance degree will be available for enrollment in the fall 2020 semester. The university will release information about future online programs on the UW-Madison Online website.