Later this year Wisconsin’s extension system will start a competency-based learning program, called the Flexible Option, in which students with professional experience and training in certain skills might be able to test out of whole courses on their way to getting a degree.
Competency-based learning is already famously used by private institutions like Southern New Hampshire University and Western Governors University, but Wisconsin will be one of the first major public universities to take on this new, controversial form of granting degrees. Among the system’s campuses, Milwaukee was first to announce bachelor’s degrees in nursing, diagnostic imaging, and information science and technology, along with a certificate in professional and business communication. UW Colleges, made up of the system’s two-year institutions, is developing liberal-arts-oriented associate degrees. The Flex Option, as it’s often called, may cost the Wisconsin system $35-million over the next few years, with half of that recovered through tuition. The system is starting with a three-month, all-you-can-learn term for $2,250.
If done right, the Flex Option could help a significant number of adults acquire marketable skills and cross the college finish line—an important goal in Wisconsin, which lags behind neighboring states in percentage of adults with college diplomas. There are some 800,000 people in the state who have some college credits but no degree—among them Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who dropped out of Marquette University. He had pushed the university system to set up the Flex Option early last year, when he was considering inviting Western Governors to the state to close a statewide skills gap in high-demand fields like health care, information technology, and advanced manufacturing.
The article seems to suggest that some professors in the Wisconsin system are opposed to this innovation. Developing…