Online education is constantly evolving with new technologies and methodologies that the creators hope could become the “next big thing” in higher education. From online universities to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), there is always another idea that could beat the last. This competition creates an environment for all parties to continue to grow the value of online education. It also draws in more traditional educators to enter the game. The newest is Wisconsin’s public university system and their Flex Option degree.
Through the Flex Option degree, Wisconsin is hoping to do away with the credit hour and allow students to earn their degrees at their own speed through competency-based education. The state discovered this pathway after realizing they had more than 700,000 potential students in the state. However, many of these prospective students couldn’t attend the standard university format, nor could the campuses handle the increase in population. Here is how the Flex Option degree will fix it.
Students will pay $2,250 for three months of unlimited access to instructional content, advisors, and other information. They will also be able to take as many competency tests as they want to move forward toward their degree. There is also a $900 option for students who want to focus on specific topics over a three-month period. Tuition can be renewed as many times as a student needs until they earn their degree.
Wisconsin will only start with a few degrees, including a liberal arts associate’s degree, a degree in biomedical sciences diagnostic imaging, information science and technology, and a nursing degree. They will also only accept 10 students for each degree in the first class, to carefully track how the program works. Over the following six years, the Flex Option will be fine tuned to increase to full enrollment in all Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees offered.
There are still a lot of questions about self-learning, often from professors, and often bringing up issues with a university becoming a “degree mill.” However, others see the potential value in Flex Option degrees. The Lumina Foundation awarded Wisconsin a $1.25 million dollar grant to carefully evaluate and document the program because if it does work, they want it to be accessible by other universities as well. We’ll be watching carefully at how this format could impact other institutions.