Governor, UW System Announce Flexible Degree Program

MacIver News Service | June 19, 2012

[Madison, Wisc…] A new program aimed at making higher education more accessible for all Wisconsinites will be available for students beginning this fall.

“This new model for delivering higher education will help us close the skills gap at an affordable price to get Wisconsin working again,” said Governor Walker. “As states across the country work to improve access and affordability in higher education, I am proud to support this exciting and innovative University of Wisconsin solution.”

Thanks to an expansion of the University of Wisconsin system’s online classes, students may soon be able to earn a degree without setting foot in a classroom.

UW System President Kevin P. Reilly and UW-Extension Chancellor Ray Cross joined Walker in announcing that the state’s public universities will offer a more comprehensive online environment than ever before. A whole new system will allow students greater flexibility in their class selection while allowing for lower tuition and overhead costs. UW-Extension will be the driving force behind this project.

“We are proud of the collaborative work that has gone into this proposal and we look forward to working with the governor, the legislature, faculty, employers, and others to make Wisconsin the leading innovator in higher education,” said Reilly. “We’ve set the stage for this in recent years with efforts to expand transfer policies, enabling students to more easily move college credits from one UW campus to another or from another school into the UW System,” Reilly said. “Together, these and other features should result in offerings that could let students reduce their costs dramatically

The self-driven model will allow students to select and take classes at their own pace and better customize their learning plans. These courses will be taught by UW System instructors. Students will also have the opportunity to convert prior coursework from different opportunities or work experience into credit hours that can be used towards graduation.

“This proposal complements many of the initiatives we have in place for our PK-12 students, and we look forward to exploring ways that the UW Flexible Degree can work with our dual enrollment partnership with UW Colleges,” said Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers. “Keeping students engaged in their own learning through access to college courses and credits will help them get a jump start to completing a degree and entering the workforce.”

The flexible system will reduce overhead costs and create a more affordable option for students looking to earn a UW degree, according to state officials. This commitment should help expand the state’s cache of qualified workers into the future while addressing the rising costs of tuition at Wisconsin’s state universities.

“[I]if we want to expand online education programs, then we need to invest in rural broadband access to ensure that students and businesses are able to take full advantage of these new opportunities,” said State Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) in a statement that was generally supportive of Tuesday’s announced initiative.

Shilling’s colleague in the Senate, Republican Alberta Darling (River Hills), was even more enthusiastic.

“Not only does this flexible degree program make our UW System schools more competitive, it makes our workforce more competitive,” said Darling. “People will be able to get the skills they need, when they can.”

More details on the proposal can be found, here.