On Dec. 6, University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin-Extension Chancellor Ray Cross announced that UW-Madison, along with three other UW Institutions, will be participating in UW Flexible Option. UW Flexible Option describes itself as offering “a more personalized, convenient and affordable way for adults and other nontraditional students to earn a [UW] degree or certificate while balancing work, family and other commitments.”

The program was first introduced last year in November. UW-Milwaukee was one of the premiere schools partaking in the program — for example, offering nursing-related degrees to registered nurses who needed additional schooling to obtain higher professional credentials.

Because most of the students participating in this program do not have the flexibility to obtain a degree the traditional way, they get to work at their own pace, taking programs online and assessments (projects, tests and other measurements of knowledge) when it best suits them. They are not subjected to term-based schedules, and they do not have the problem of waiting for available spaces in the classroom to proceed with their education. They can pause and continue their educations as they please. UW faculty decides on the students’ progress towards their degrees using a variety of assessments to determine their key competencies. While the bulk of the UW Flexible Option programs are offered online, there are still a few that dive into more hands-on experience.

This program has been garnering interest quickly. By providing more flexibility for adults to obtain a degree or certificate in a field they already possess background knowledge and skills in, UW is increasing these students’ chances of employment. This program is a huge asset to people who may have started higher education, but weren’t able to finish and obtain a degree outlining their qualifications. It also benefits those who may have acquired skills and experience outside of the traditional education system but lack a degree or certificate from traditional schooling.

This program is not only an ingenious idea for the purpose of equipping students with the credentials they need to move higher up in the workplace, but it also provides a quality education. Although the students are moving at their own pace and working mainly online, the UW faculty who designed this program ensured the degrees and certificates gained through this program will be “held to the same rigorous standards for all UW degrees.” While this program was designed to be more convenient and accessible, it is not designed to make the coursework any less rigorous. Students are expected to put in just as much hard work and have just as much credibility as a person obtaining their degree or certificate through traditional schooling.

With the strategic thinking behind the planning of UW Flexible Option, it has the potential to be helpful to a great many people. The rest of the country should take note and follow UW’s example and start implementing this kind of program in other institutions of higher learning. Giving well qualified workers the chance to prove their qualifications and earn their credentials so that they can gain employment is a sure way to lower unemployment rates and get more money circulating within the economy.

Pamanisha Gross ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and communication arts.