This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on March 23, 2017.
It’s budget season in Wisconsin. As in recent years, there is much discussion around tuition rates, state support and maintaining the University of Wisconsin as one of the nation’s premier research universities. But under the radar, the UW System has quietly been innovating against the affordability and workforce challenges faced by the state through a program called UW Flex.
Wisconsin is experiencing a shift from what has historically been heavy employment in manufacturing to jobs that require far more education. But, like many state universities, the UW System has also seen a long-term decline in state appropriations, and tuition has risen in order to pick up the slack in the budget.
Wisconsin faces a challenge: How can the state skill up quickly to meet demand for the new jobs in today’s economy? How can innovation create a college education that is lower cost and accessible, not just to high school seniors, but to working adults who need to retrain?
In order to meet the demands of the 21st-century economy, a team at UW began to experiment with developing a competency-based program. In competency-based education, learning is fixed and time is variable, meaning that students can spend as much time as it takes to demonstrate proficiency and mastery of each competency–and cannot move on until they do. This stands in contrast to a traditional program, in which time is fixed (a semester, for instance), and learning is variable.
Perhaps most importantly for UW leaders, competency-based education can also be designed to align to workforce needs by matching learning competencies to work-based skills and dispositions. Because of their flexibility, these programs can attract students who are older and already working, which allows Wisconsin to help retrain workers displaced by the shift away from manufacturing. (more…)