By Michael R. Lovell
Chancellor University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
More than a year ago, UWM, the University of Wisconsin System and the University of Wisconsin Extension were very excited to announce the UW Flexible Option, a way for students of all ages to earn college credits, certificates and degrees in a more personalized, convenient and affordable way.
A lot of work has taken place to make the proposal a reality, and I’m very pleased to report that at the beginning of January 2014, the program is up and running, and the first students have enrolled.
At participating UW System two-year colleges and four-year universities, we see the Flexible Option as an innovative way to deliver courses and content to different populations than those currently reached.
Most often, it has been designed for adult, nontraditional students who may have a lot of life experiences and have completed a significant part of their education, but haven’t been able to find the time to complete their schooling.
While the Flexible Option won’t work for everyone, it may be the answer for individuals who are in fields for which the coursework can be done online.
Many different fields of study will eventually be offered from multiple state universities. Right now, UWM is providing degree options in nursing, health sciences and information studies, and a certificate option in business and technical communication.
We’re very excited about the UW Flexible Option because we recognize that with technology, the ability to deliver course content is much different than it was previously.
Some courses are especially well-suited to being done in the virtual world.
This creates new opportunities for people to go back and complete their degrees or take courses in areas in which they want to gain more expertise.
What’s truly different about the Flexible Option compared to many other online courses is it will allow you to measure your competency in a certain subject area.
It may be that a person taking a particular course is not necessarily seeking to complete a degree.
A person may just be interested in demonstrating a competency for the purpose of furthering his or her standing at work or in seeking a promotion.
Or a person may already have a degree but want to expand into new areas.
I’m really proud that we’re making options available, right here at UWM, for people who believe in the value of a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee degree and the quality of the university’s faculty, but haven’t had the time to make their schedules fit with ours.
Students will be able to define their own paths, proceed at their own pace, and take advantage of a support network to select and complete courses.
The potential payoff for the State of Wisconsin is that right now, only about 26 percent of state residents who are 25 or older have at least a bachelor’s degree.
That compares to a national average of nearly 29 percent and even higher numbers in neighboring states like Illinois (31 percent) and Minnesota (32 percent).
The more people with college degrees we have in our state, the more likely they are to do better economically.
This is shown by the current differences in median household incomes among Wisconsin ($52,627), Illinois ($56,853) and Minnesota ($59,126).
All of these statistics are from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The UW Flexible Option is a great pathway for the individuals, estimated at about 750,000 in the State of Wisconsin, who have some college credits but not a degree.
For those who have not been able to find their way back to college in the traditional way, this could be the way.
More information about the UW Flexible Option is available – where else? – online at flex.wisconsin.edu.