UW System Launches New Flexible Option Program

Last week brought some exciting news on innovation in higher education as the University of Wisconsin System announced plans to expand offerings through the Flexible Option degree program. Earlier this year, the State Legislature authorized the implementation of the Flexible Option degree program, a competency-based program which is designed to be a convenient way for individuals who have completed some college courses to return to their studies and earn a degree or certificate at their own pace.

According to the UW System, it is estimated that over 700,000 individuals in Wisconsin have taken some college courses but not completed their degree. Economic forecasts indicate that by 2018, 60% of jobs will require some level of college education. Recognizing the opportunity to help these individuals earn a degree, the UW System began developing a program that would allow students to complete their coursework while juggling work and family responsibilities. The Flex Option program is unique in that it allows students to gain credit by demonstrating knowledge gained through on-the-job training, military experience, prior courses, or online courses by taking competency-based exams.

Starting with degree programs at UW-Milwaukee and the two-year UW Colleges, students will be able to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing, biomedical sciences diagnostic imaging, or information science and technology. An associate degree in arts and science and a certificate in business and technical communications will also be available. Once enrolled, students will be assigned an academic success coach that will provide individual mentoring and customized programs based on career goals and existing knowledge base. Developers of the Flex Option program worked with faculty and staff, as well as industry and business leaders, to create the competency-based exams that will ensure students are adequately prepared for the workforce while maintaining UW degree standards.

I applaud the UW System for their commitment to innovative ideas in working towards addressing both the skills gap and college affordability. This program is designed to prepare students for professional opportunities while achieving cost savings for the student as compared to the costs associated with fulltime programs.

The UW System is the first public university system to offer this kind of program on a broad scale and has already seen great interest in the program, both within and outside of our state. Since its launch in October, students from 21 states and 75 countries have visited the website for information and many have taken the two-step assessment to determine if the program is right for them. The UW System also recently announced that four UW institutions, UW- Madison, UW-Parkside, UW-Stevens Point, and UW-Stout, are in various stages of implementing additional Flex Option degree programs.

The Flex Option provides another avenue for students to complete their degree and acquire the skills that employers are seeking. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about this program, please visit the UW Flex Option website at http://flex.wisconsin.edu/.

What are your thoughts on the Flex Option and innovation in higher education? I welcome your input and questions on this or other issues before the State Legislature. Please visit my website at www.harsdorfsenate.com or feel free to call my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745.

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