University of Wisconsin announces new ‘competency-based degree model’

by Grace

In an announcement that could have implications for the affordability of education and professional development, and possibly help address the skills gap, Gov. Scott Walker, University of Wisconsin System President Kevin P. Reilly, and UW Colleges and UW-Extension Chancellor Ray Cross have announced a competency-based degree model that they claim will transform higher education in Wisconsin.  

Under the self-paced, competency-based model, students will be allowed to start classes anytime and earn credit for what they already know.  Students will be able to demonstrate college-level competencies based on material they already learned in school, on the job, or on their own.  

By taking advantage of this flexible model, and by using a variety of resources to help pay for their education, Walker said students will have new tools to accelerate their careers in a more accessible, affordable way.

The UW Flexible Degree will combine traditional face-to-face courses with online programs. 

One goal is to offer students smaller course segments or “modules.” Rather than molding coursework around a set timeframe, these modules can be designed to contain only the knowledge required within a specific competency. This could benefit working adults who need to start and pause their studies because of work and personal commitments. It could also benefit highly motivated students who are able to move through course materials at a faster pace.

Roll out of this new program is planned for as early as this fall.

The unique nature of the Flexible Degree will allow the UW to lower the net tuition cost to students in a number of ways.

Related:  MOOCs combined with prior learning assessment equals college credits


5 Comments to “University of Wisconsin announces new ‘competency-based degree model’”

  1. Connecticut has done this for years with their Charter Oak State College ( Back in the 90’s, I served as an evaluator for their competency program. It has hardly been transformative.


  2. It remains to be seen whether this will be “transformative”, but I think it’s hard to compare with the 90s. The amplified push for college for all plus rising costs might be the difference. Or not.


  3. I don’t know any college-bound seniors who would choose online instead of of a traditional campus, but I think young people of that age are more comfortable with online learning than they were 10-20 years ago. So if the option is CC (with some online courses, btw) or mainly online, And I can think of one college kid I know who has taken summer online courses to supplement his traditional degree.

    I can see where the trend might break to more non-traditional avenues. I think the differences between now and 20 years ago are significant enough to cause a major transformation. Very possible.


  4. Those MOOC drop rates are not very meaningful to me. After all, these are free courses that many people want to try out. Without personally knowing, I would be very willing to believe many of these courses are not very good. But I’m curious to see how they evolve and if the quality improves. It’s just hard for me to believe that the technology (combined with economic and other factors) would not end up impacting education in a very big way.

    I just checked with one college kid who told me he didn’t like online courses. When asked to explain why, he said they represent a very low level of credentialing. But he would probably like them just fine if they actually meant something to employers. That’s a big hurdle, but who knows?


  5. “the ability to automate good feedback is a LONG way off.”

    I keep reading about this in terms of writing instruction, and it does seem to be somewhat promising but not without its problems.


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