Students enrolling next fall in the University of Wisconsin’s new flexible degree programs for working adults will pay $2,250 for a three-month “all you can learn” block of time, allowing motivated students to zip through multiple courses much faster than allowed in the traditional semester-based model.
It’s one of the updates the UW System Board of Regents will hear Thursday about the first-of-its-kind academic offering. The regents meet in Milwaukee.
University officials decided on the three-month terms after evaluating a similar flex degree offering at Western Governors University, which charges students for six-month blocks. UW Extension chancellor Ray Cross, who’s spearheading the flexible degree program, said they found the longer term, even for otherwise motivated adult learners, leads to a favorite college pastime: procrastination.
The price for three of those three-month blocks, considered equivalent to a full academic year, is slightly less than traditional students pay for a full nine-month academic year. Flexible degree students will pay $6,750, about $1,000 less than traditional students pay for tuition and fees on average, said Aaron Brower, interim provost at UW-Extension.
Students opting for the “all you can learn” route will not pay additional fees and will be able to use university resources including financial aid, academic advisers and tutors. Library access is included, Cross said.
Students opting for the other flexible degree option, called “assessment only,” will not. Pricing has not been set for that option, which will allow students to pay only for competency-based assessments they need to advance toward a degree.
The flexible degree concept was introduced last June, promising a more accessible, affordable path to a degree for working adults who can learn at their own pace and test out of units as soon as they’ve gained proficiency. The flexible degrees are aimed at the estimated 750,000 adults in Wisconsin who have some college experience but no degree, which can stall professional advancement.
UW-Milwaukee will become the first Wisconsin university to offer degree programs in the flexible format next fall, with the following degrees available: bachelor’s in nursing, diagnostic imaging and information science; a master’s in nursing; and a certificate in professional and technical communication. The two-year UW Colleges will offer an associate of arts and science degree to meet general education requirements. Other campuses are expected to follow with flexible degree offerings in 2013-14.
The degree offerings must get approval from the Higher Learning Commission, an accrediting agency. Applications by UW-Milwaukee and UW Colleges were submitted in mid-May with an answer expected in July. The universities offering the degrees will then apply to the U.S. Department of Education to approve giving financial aid to students in the programs.
The federal department recently approved its first such program at Southern New Hampshire University, a private school. The UW program is expected to be the first public university system to get approved. Northern Arizona University also is expected to apply, Cross said.
The new offerings differ from existing online courses by breaking down courses into smaller units that students can start and finish whenever is convenient without regard for the typical academic calendar. They also allow students to test out of material they already know.