Wisconsin wins accrediting approval for competency-based degrees

A regional accrediting association has given its blessing to a new degree option in Wisconsin that will make it easier for working adults to learn at their own pace and earn credits once they have demonstrated competency in the course.

“This is an important step in our progress toward offering new Flexible Option degrees,” said University of Wisconsin System President Kevin P. Reilly in a statement. “It is a strong vote of confidence from our higher-education colleagues – one that follows intensive efforts by UW faculty and staff to launch this innovative learning platform in a manner that preserves high quality and academic rigor.”

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has already obtained state permission to offer three bachelor’s degree programs and one certificate beginning this fall. The University of Wisconsin colleges were approved for an associate degree program. The new competency-based degree programs were recognized earlier this month by the Higher Learning Commission, their accrediting authority.

Federal law permits students enrolled in competency-based programs to be eligible for federal financial aid programs, provided those programs are accredited and meet certain other conditions. The accredition by the Higher Learning Commission was significant because it allows students to receive federal financial aid to enroll in competency-based courses.

The degree programs are the first of their kind in Wisconsin, under the UW Flexible Option. They are designed for nontraditional adult students who often come to college with substantial learning acquired in a variety of educational and work venues. The new UW Flexible Option will allow students to earn college credit by demonstrating knowledge they have acquired through coursework, military training, on-the-job training, and other learning experiences. Students will make progress towards a degree by passing a series of assessments that demonstrate mastery of required knowledge and skills.

Students will be able to take full advantage of free educational resources available online and elsewhere, including the growing number of massive open online courses, or “MOOCs.” They will demonstrate their knowledge through robust, reliable assessments designed by UW faculty members, and will be held to the same rigorous standards for all UW degrees.

Students can choose between a three-month “all you can learn” block with an all-inclusive rate of $2,250 or an “assessment only” option where they pay for competency exams that allow them to move on to the next phase of their degree programs.