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UWM unveils flexible degree program

Jared Christman, Assistant News Editor
December 4, 2012
Filed under News

A first-of-its-kind flexible degree program is coming to UW-Milwaukee.

The school will be the first in the UW System, and the country, to offer the program.

The program is designed to offer nontraditional students — working adults, military veterans, those who left school early without a degree, etc. — the option of earning credits outside of the classroom using knowledge gained though prior work experience or through online courses.

Students will not have to follow a typical academic calendar and can work on course materials at their own pace. The program aims to allow students to quickly test out of material they already know.

Some of the courses at UW-Milwaukee will be repackaged into formats that follow flexible option degrees, including a bachelor’s degree in nursing, diagnostic imaging, information science and technology and a certificate in professional and technical communication.

In addition to this, two-year UW System schools will start to provide general education and liberal art courses in the flexible online format.

However, the idea behind the flexible degree program is not unheard of. For example, nonprofit, online universities like Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, Utah, have been around for more than a decade. Much like the flexible degree program, WGU offers residents from 19 states the flexibility and independence to study at their own pace. But while the idea may not be new, never before has a public university system offered such a program to its students.

In a Nov. 28 statement, UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mike Lovell said he was optimistic about the new program.

“I have every confidence that we can provide a very rewarding, highly personalized learning experience for the students who choose this new pathway,” Lovell said.

Plans for the flexible degree program were announced last June by UW System officials and Gov. Scott Walker in a joint press conference. They called for $3 million to start the program from Legislature in the 2013-15 biennium budget request.

After being submitted last August, the request is expected to be voted on early next year.

Walker reaffirmed his support for competency-based programs in a statement last Wednesday. He also said he wants to expand the program to other fields of study.

“Using a competency-based degree model coupled with online testing has the potential to revolutionize higher education,” Walker said. “Today’s announcement is the next step in that direction.”

While UW-Milwaukee will be the first, other four-year schools in the UW System are also working on flexible options for their degree programs.

UW-Green Bay already offers interdisciplinary studies programs to students that give the ability to focus on the degree that is most valuable to them and their employers. Much like UW-Milwaukee’s flexible degree program, it aims to allow students to learn in a way that still leaves time to focus on work and family.

As for making a move over to a flexible degree program like UW-Milwaukee’s, UWGB Provost Julia Wallace said it’s not happening — for now, at least.

“We’re kind of in a wait-and-see attitude to see exactly have the process works out,” Wallace said. “We already have a flexible degree program online for our adult learners and our [interdisciplinary studies] program, so I think we’re doing well for our adults right now.”

Regardless of the program type, Wallace said this is a step in the right direction.

“The nature of how students learn is changing dramatically,” Wallace said. “It’s a good thing that the UW System is getting on that train to make sure that they provide a good degree program that adults are looking for.”

For more information on the flexible degree program, visit ecampus.wisconsin.edu.

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