Posted by: Carol | February 4, 2013

Flexible Degree Programs, Coming to a University Near You

One of the ongoing challenges faced by community colleges has been how to meet the needs of working adults who have significant skills and knowledge gained through work experience, but lack the course credits and the time to enroll in courses to earn corresponding degrees or certificates. Without the degrees or certificates, these working adults often struggle to advance in their careers, transition to more desirable careers, or even find employment in a competitive job market.

Often, workers with many years of practical, on-the-job experience and all the necessary skills to fill an open position will get passed over for promotions or as new hires because they lack a degree or certificate. When these workers come to a university or community college with the hope of obtaining these degrees or certificates, they often find themselves mired in basic skills courses or on a waiting list for over-enrolled programs. Required courses can be full and unavailable until the next semester or scheduled at times of the day that are incompatible with work schedules. All of these factors can contribute to high drop-out or non-completion rates which are frustrating for both colleges and students.

The University of Wisconsin (UW) has stepped forward to try to address this problem, though mostly for students seeking a four-year bachelor degree. This past month, they launched their pilot “Flexible Option” Program, which is a competency-based program that allows students to take a self-paced, independent study approach to earning the credentials they need. Students enroll at any time – as their progress is not tied to a school calendar, they don’t need to wait for a semester to start to enroll – and work at their own pace. They are welcome to access free materials and resources online and elsewhere such as massively open online courses (MOOCs). They may confer with UW faculty or take UW classes. It’s all up to them. And then, when they feel ready, they demonstrate their knowledge through “rigorous, reliable” assessments designed by UW faculty with input from industry experts and leaders.

Once they pass the assessment, students then move on to the next step. This continues until students complete and pass all the necessary assessments and are awarded their degree. Take a look at the video below, giving an overview of the program:


UW’s Flexible Option degree program is the first of its kind presented by a public university and signals the willingness of traditional education institutions to incorporate the vast and evolving body of information, knowledge, and instruction now available on the Internet into their credentialing processes.

It will be interesting to watch UW’s program unfold. Even more intriguing will be watching other colleges and universities as they seek to address the coinciding needs of working adults and the credentialing of knowledge or competencies acquired through non-traditional avenues.

More pertinent to us though is the question, how does CTE fit into this evolving landscape?

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